Here it is! A new chapter, dredged up from the bowels of my .doc file. More to come later, but not too soon.
Chapter 20: Brooches & Battering
"Ugghh," Emberlynn moaned, flopping to the floor outside the classroom of CXLXII Crossovers That Should or Shouldn't Be Written. "My brain is never going to be the same. I feel like I need bleach!"
"Ah, don't worry about it," said Ian. "That's just the feeling of loads of crucial information slowly soaking into your brain. In a couple of hours it'll be worked in, and you'll feel nice and clean and much, much smarter."
"That's easy for you to say," Emberlynn groaned. "Everything fits in your head, since you don't have a brain." She rolled over to face him. "Seriously. How does it all fit?"
Ian shrugged. "I rent out my brain to needy kids in impoverished countries."
Well, I'm obviously not going to get a straight answer out of you.
"Anybody know what our next class is?" asked Winifred, meandering toward Ian in a flirtatious manner.
"Uh... it's called Skulker Is Not a Decepticon," the halfa answered, shuffling away from Winifred. "The good news is, there'll be no pop tests. The bad news is, we have to listen to the Doctor fire one-liners for three hours."
"Really?" she asked, and tried to muscle her way into his shoulder. "How'd you know that?"
"It's in the mandatory-read schedule they gave you last Sunday."
"Ha ha, students!" boomed Jorgen von Strangle, clapping one fist into a cupped hand. "Welcome back to Grammar Boot Camp! I trust you have not allowed too many of my teachings to escape your minds during your time off."
"No, sir!" exclaimed Abercrombie Fauntleroy. "I before E, sir! Danny Phantom is not a shinigami, sir!" The student was shaking so badly that Nicholas was almost sure caffeine had been involved.
"Danny Phantom is not a... what?" Jorgen queried. "Never mind. Don't answer that. I do not want to know. However, Abercrombie, that information will not help you here. Advanced homophone drills, four hundred yards! Hut! Two! Hut!"
As Nicholas started across the sludgy ground, he realized two things: that Jorgen was incurably nuts, and that it would be absurdly funny if someone were to tie the sergeant's combat boots together.
"Through our pain we will broach the barriers of determination!"
"We will recieve no medals of honor, not even a commemorative brooch!"
Jorgen halted the company.
Nicholas could see that he was in for a long, sizeable bout of pain.
Elsewhere on University grounds - inside the staff section, in fact - another sort of pain was occuring, at roughly the same time, as Miss Morgan concluded reading a particularily bad fanfiction.
Her conclusion, as she attempted to wipe her brain of the experience, was that the writer had done absolutely no research at all. Reprehensible on its own, this crime was virtually egregious when paired with the content of the writer's story: pregnancy.
Male pregnancy, no less.
"That didn't even look like pregnancy," she growled. "That looked like someone's elaborate prank that they knew they could get away with because Vlad was so clueless! Seriously! Who ever heard of anyone starting to show during the first trimester? Who ever heard of anyone getting morning sickness the day after they become pregnant? WHO EVER HEARD OF A TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD WHO COULDN'T WRITE A REALISTIC PREGNANCY?!"
"Now, now," said Miss Miktayee, and patted Miss Morgan on the back. "Have some brain-bleach. You'll feel better."
Morgan accepted the bottle, and poured its contents down one ear before slumping on the desk. "I'm afraid I've lost my faith in writers. Again."
Thirty minutes later, it appeared that the class had finally learned how to spell "brooch" -- and if they didn't, they had at least developed a good amount of skill in faking it. With that taken care of, they returned to regular homophone drills, and this time the students were a bit smarter -- if they weren't sure how to spell a word, they'd follow the cue of someone who did. Nicholas wasn't sure if this was completely brilliant, or something that was going to get everyone into trouble later.
"I am not FAZED by your petty whining!"
Well. Finally, they were improving. If things turned out well, this entire exercise could actually be good for Nicholas.
Trudge, trudge. Recite. Trudge. Recite. Trip.
No, no, no no no... don't trip! Emberlynn shoved herself back up, just in time to avoid Jorgen's gaze, and continued on. Trudge, trudge, recite, trudge... the entire thing had become so monotonous and painful she wasn't even sure what she was reciting anymore. Where Jorgen von Strangle was involved, learn through pain developed completely incomprehensible depths.
"REPEAT!" Jorgen bellowed.
"F-L-A-S-H-B-A-C-K!" Emberlynn gave a mental sigh of relief. The last time he'd done that one, she'd put a space in it; Jorgen had then encouraged a large amount of space between her feet and the ground as she did chin-ups. In human form.
No, she was definitely not making that mistake again.
"We will remember this PHASE of our lives for years to come!"
"P-H-A-S-E!" That one seemed to be a favorite of Jorgen's.
Emberlynn froze. Terror began to seep through her. Had she done something wrong? Worse - had someone else done something wrong?
"All right, everyone, that's it for today's homophones," Jorgen declared. "You've done a very good job today... of SUFFERING! We will now be moving on to the hard part."
"What's the hard part?" several students demanded.
Jorgen raised an eyebrow. "What's the hard part WHAT?"
"WHAT'S THE HARD PART, SIR?"
"The hard part," said Jorgen, "will be learning to actually USE the skills which I have pounded into your tiny brains. Tonight, after you haul your broken bodies back to your little dormitories, you are going to write a very short story using all the words you have learned this week. You will read these aloud tomorrow, after which there will be a full physical test. Those of you who fail will be forced to repeat this week until you are no longer failing. Those of you who pass..."
A few students looked at Jorgen hopefully; Emberlynn barely registered that she had managed to avoid splitting an infinitive.
"...let's just say there will be no hope of rescue from where I will send you. Unless, of course, you pass it. Company DISMISSED!"
Emberlynn draped her sore limbs over her mattress, feeling oddly optimistic about the day's lesson. It had gone pretty well, she thought -- only one mistake, and it had quickly been resolved. Who'd have guessed that brooch and broach were two different words, anyway? Not her.
Her homework, though, was a bit foreboding. Not that she didn't think she could spell it - she was pretty sure she could - but how on Earth was she supposed to write a story with every homophone used in the class? It was... pretty near impossible.
"Now," said a voice, "the first thing you should remember about homework is that nothing is impossible. At least, nothing that you'll be assigned by these people. No matter how impractical it may seem, it is within the realm of your ability."
Emberlynn perked up. "Angel?"
"Over here, babes."
She sat up and glanced in the direction of his voice. The source didn't disappoint; there he was, clad in dark clothes, his back turned to her as he stared out the dorm window.
Emberlynn frowned. "Did you just call me 'babes'?"
The Homework Angel turned around, revealing in the less-than-dim light a face covered almost entirely by a tacky-looking papier-maché mask. "Ah, yes, sorry about that. It was a... pet name for someone I used to know."
Emberlynn raised an eyebrow. "Who was that?"
"Never mind." He stepped away from the window. "It isn't important. The important thing is to make sure that your homework is completed both timely and efficiently."
"Right... efficiently. Does it count as efficient if I'm dead by the time I've finished?"
The Angel frowned. "No. Don't be ridiculous; homework never killed anybody. At least not in this country. What Jorgen is asking is really quite reasonable; it's simply a question of having the right tools."
"Like... a brain and a pencil?"
He smiled. "Yes, exactly. See, you're catching on; I expect the process will be easier than your initial assessment. Come with me to the library and we'll get started."
Nicholas stared at his paper. It remained thoroughly blank, despite the fact that he'd started this project nearly half an hour ago. It wasn't that he didn't want to write; he very much did, just to give Jorgen the what-for. His muse, however, failed to oblige him, leaving him with the very embarassing realization that he actually needed one; apparently the Factory of Awesome in the back of his head didn't run itself.
He eyeballed the paper with all the disdain might one give a stationary cow. This assignment was not easy; not only was it going to be a pain using all the words the assignment needed, but he was very, very short of a plot. It shouldn't be hard to think one, he grumbled. It's only got to be a few pages long! This ought to be ridiculously easy. Stupid paper.
He glowered at his notebook, notwithstanding its lack of responsibility in the situation. It briefly occured to him that setting it on fire would be fun, but then he'd have nothing to write his assignments on, which would not go over well with the staff. He'd already burned out the image of Jack Fenton's face, anyway, so more destruction would be superfluous.
He closed the notebook and thought for a moment -- not the first time he'd tried it, but it couldn't hurt. And then, it worked -- inspiration hit. Not quite his muse, but awfully close. All he needed to do was take the coolest thing in existance and put it on paper; his innate writing ability should do the work from there. And, he believed, he had just the thing.
A few minutes later, it became painfully obvious that he did not have just the thing. Apparently an utmost coolness factor didn't make it any easier to write. This wasn't working; he just didn't have the drive he needed to make a good story! Or even a halfway readable one.
Frustrated, he finally did scribble something onto his paper: I hate this assignment.
Then it clicked. The inspiration he'd been waiting for - the plot he needed to make his genius take flight - had materialized in his mind, perfectly formed as only brilliance was. It lay in front of him like a pop-up book of computer schematics, begging for him to dig into its untouched world of intricacy.
And it was such a lovely shade of purple.
"Broach: to pierce, puncture, or break; to introduce, as to broach the subject; to cross a threshold. To form. Also a noun; describes several devices used to accomplish broaching of the first sort, or the pins within a lock." Emberlynn slammed the dictionary shut and stared at the Angel of Homework, who was perched on the desk corner scribbling something into a Fenton Notebook. "Okay, I get what the word means. Now can we get to the part where you help me write something?"
"I cannot," the Angel said mysteriously. "I can only give you the tools. True inspiration must come from within."
"I don't need true inspiration. I just need to do this assignment."
"Everything you write requires inspiration, no matter how small a source. Much like that dream you were having last night with Keanu Reeves."
Emberlynn blushed furiously. "Shut up about that! How'd you know about that dream, anyway?"
"Quite easily. You're very poor at keeping your thoughts to yourself... especially while walking alone in the halls."
"Ooh, I'm gonna kill you!"
"Then you'll have to finish your homework by yourself."
"Fine," Emberlynn pouted. "Can you just throw me a bone? A hint? A plotbunny?"
"A plotbunny..." He reached into his cloak and pulled out a small rabbit, whose six-inch fangs shone in the dim light as it tried to wriggle free. "You mean one of these?"
"The figurative kind, duh. Get rid of that thing."
"Fine." He returned the rabbit to his clothes. "I think you'll find they're quite indispensable, though. I could get you one of your own if you like."
"No. Just help me come up with a story to write. It doesn't have to be the whole plot. Just a tidbit!"
"I already told you. I can't do that."
"I need it!"
"Which does not mean I am required to give it to you!" he snapped. "You are such a spoiled child. Just because I offer you one thing, you decide you have to have it all. Well, you don't, nor is it my job to give it to you!"
She stared at him, somewhat awestruck.
"I am not obligated to help you in any way. I offered my assistance in the first place because I believed you showed promise. I believed you were a cut above other students like you. Well, if you wish to correct me now, please feel free to do so and I will let you back to your work! There are other students that could use my tutelage."
"Uh, no, that's okay," she interrupted quickly. "I'm just gonna open the dictionary and... look up thirty-four definitions for 'weight'."
He nodded. "Good. And if you still need inspiration later, I'll be happy to show you to the Tropes section of the library."
"I thought you said-"
"True inspiration comes from within. Artificial inspiration is almost as good."