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Gal Paladins 2: New Girl

by Ventomology

The girl who sits next to Lily is named Elizabeth. She doesn’t shorten it, claiming that her old nickname is a little weird, and that she’s pretty sure she’s done using it outside of a very specific context.

She has no smell.

The lack of scent throws Lily off. In fact, everything about Elizabeth throws Lily off. She looks familiar, for some reason, like Lily should know the curve of those cheekbones and the flesh of those lips. She looks confident, but in a weird way, like she isn’t sure if she’s allowed to be confident. Her eyes are a deep, fiery brown, but Lily wants to picture them red-gold, for some reason.

On her other side, Theo coughs. His smell turns a little dry. Startled, Lily turns back to him and blinks.

“You were staring,” he whispers.

Oops. Lily casts one more glance at Elizabeth, who smiles in the strained, uncomfortable way that people do when they’re being looked at too closely. Then, face burning, Lily laces her fingers together and stares down at her thumbs.

“Smooth,” Theo says under his breath.

“Please shut up,” Lily hisses.

The door slams open, and the classroom goes silent. A startled, electric tang drifts past Lily’s nose, and she turns to watch as the infamous Mrs. Zhang stalks into the room.

Mrs. Zhang is a small woman. She maybe reaches Lily’s nose, and Lily isn’t especially tall. But despite her small stature, Mrs. Zhang is a force. The wrinkles on her face carve deep, darkening her stern, imperious glare. She walks with a cane topped in shiny, heavy brass, and she wears clothing from fifty years ago--wool coats with big buttons and charming, military collars. She looks like short, Chinese Jackie Kennedy. She even styles her salt-and-pepper hair like it’s still the nineteen sixties.

The electric tang turns to sumptuous, fatty respect. Lily thinks she might drool.

Mrs. Zhang’s three-beat gait carries her to the center of the classroom, where she stands, feet shoulder-width apart, chest up and out, hands clasped over her cane, and surveys her students. She squints for a long time, and then takes a breath.

“Good morning,” she says coolly. “I am Mrs. Zhang. You have probably heard of me.”

Silence follows.

But, yes, everyone has heard of her. Except for maybe Elizabeth, who tilts her head to one side in consideration.

Mrs. Zhang is the oldest teacher in the school. She’s old enough to have pictures of herself roving around with the Yellow Power and Black Panther movements, which she displays proudly on her desk. Everyone knows not to mess with Mrs. Zhang. She will tear guts out, show off the bloody entrails, and then put them back inside a person to fit better and stronger than before. And she does it without coffee.

Everyone who takes her classes passes, but they pass because she’s unrelentless, not because she’s easy.

“The rumors are true,” Mrs. Zhang says, idly rubbing one wrinkled hand. “I am the strictest teacher you will ever have, and that includes the time you may spend in university. But I am not unfair, and I am not unkind. You will all pass calculus, and you will do it splendidly.”

Elizabeth makes a little humming noise, some kind of acknowledgement or surprise or eagerness, and every eye in the room goes to her. She immediately cowers.

“No, no,” Mrs. Zhang says. “Don’t apologize, Elizabeth. A reaction is good.”

Elizabeth stiffens. Lily wonders if the other girl’s cheeks are hot.

“For those of you who are wondering,” Mrs. Zhang continues, “yes, today is a syllabus day. To be successful, you must understand the expectations that our school district has for you, the expectations I have for you, and the expectations you must set for yourself.”

Lily blinks. That certainly puts a new spin on the whole business. She feels Theo scoot infantessimally closer to her, like Mrs. Zhang’s presence makes him nervous and he needs moral support.

Like a whip, Mrs. Zhang snaps her head towards one corner of the classroom. “Eric and Wendy!” she barks. “Please pass out the syllabi that I have left on your desks.”

They hop to it, scrambling as though they hadn’t even seen the papers there. Lily smells something dark and sweet and old, like wine. It’s stronger and more sudden than the other smells, and it dissipates quickly while the ambient scents continue to waft and linger. Narrowing her eyes, Lily waits for her copy of the syllabus and watches Mrs. Zhang in her periphery.

Elizabeth tilts her head again, gazing far away like she’s heard something familiar.

There are two extra syllabi, and Mrs. Zhang holds out one hand so Eric and Wendy can drop them in her palm. She tucks one behind her back, and Lily smells the wine again for a moment. Then, with a stuffy sniff, she shakes out the other copy and begins reading from it.

Mrs. Zhang reads the syllabus like it's scripture. She gestures like a preacher and pauses like a pastor, putting special emphasis on the parts that describe expected work load and class participation. At some point, she brings out the hand that should have been holding the second extra syllabus, and Lily blinks in surprise to see it empty. Mrs. Zhang hasn’t been standing by any convenient horizontal planes.

Rome rises and falls in the time it takes to go through Mrs. Zhang’s syllabus. It’s four double-sided pages long, and she adds commentary almost every sentence. Lily wants to fall on a legionnaire’s spear by the end of it.

After the bell rings, Mrs. Zhang sends the class away with a stern sigh. And then Lily remembers that the hallways will smell bad, so she sighs too.

She follows sluggishly as Theo heads for the door, grimacing when a classmate pulls it open and lets in the stench of the school. It isn’t as bad as before; now that the shock of first hour has worn off, the smell is cooler, cleaner, and calmer. It’s still a lot though, and Lily wants to just curl up in a practice room with Theo and soak in the warm smell of butter that hangs off him. Or she could sit with scentless Elizabeth.

Theo is passing through the door when Lily feels a callused hand wrap around her wrist.

“Wait!” breathes Elizabeth. “Lily and Theo, right?”

All three of them stop in the doorway like the thoughtless teenagers they are.

“Yeah,” Theo replies, when Lily says nothing. “That’s us. What’s up?”

Eyebrows scrunched in worry, Elizabeth lets go of Lily’s wrist. She tips her face down, flustered. “Um, do you guys have Non-Western World History next?”

“Yes,” Theo answers. His confused expression melts into a kind smile. “Need help getting there?”

“That would be really nice, actually. Yeah.”

Theo tilts his head towards Lily and wraps an arm around her shoulders. She can feel the flex of his jaw against her temple as he grins. “No problem. You can help me make sure Lily doesn’t get lost.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Lily grumbles. She does like being tucked right up against Theo though. He is heaven for her nose.

Still scowling, she lets Theo drag her out and watches in the corner of her eye as Elizabeth follows them.

Is this a review?



User avatar
415 Reviews

Points: 3028
Reviews: 415

Sun Apr 26, 2020 1:41 am
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Horisun wrote a review...

Hello! This is my fourth review to you, and I apologize if I'm spamming your notifications!

I'm very curious to see what role Ms. Zhang plays in the story. For some reason I get an odd vibe that she knows something Lily doesn't, and it has me very curious... Though she could also just be your standard strict teacher, who knows, we'll just have to see.

One thing I am confused about is the fact that the 'scentless girl' seems to smell the things Lily is smelling. I'm pretty sure she is Batty, so that raises the question... Isn't Lily's ability being able to 'smell emotions' and is that just her ability? Or is it the other girls too? Who knows.

Also, a tiny nitpick I have is that I feel this is a bit of a filler chapter, unless, perhaps, I'm right about Ms. Zhang having something to do with the plot, in which case, perhaps there are some hints earlier in the chapter I previously missed?

Anyway, on to the next chapter!

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44 Reviews

Points: 169
Reviews: 44

Sat Feb 29, 2020 12:21 am
IamI wrote a review...

Hello. This is my review.

So here I am again, I was wondering when you’d add to this. I like how you’re using the smells to imply emotions, this is a brilliant idea and I hope you realize how much you can do with this idea, if you’re interested to see what another author did with this idea, read book ten of the wheel of time (a character with a similar ability as the main here plays a large part), though I feel obliged to recommend it in its entirety, 15 books and all, not an easy read (they’re all doorstoppers), but the audiobooks are excellent.

With the praise out of the way allow me to get to what really matters: the criticism. I chafe at the plot largely for two reasons: the first of these is that I don’t know where it’s going, I delight in winding, covered roads for plots (one of the main reasons the wheel of time interests me so much), where authors have paved the roads and covered them on their way out, but I worry where I see no wheels of plot turning, and no path laid clear; what I am trying to say is that it seems to meander without purpose. With that point felt with, I may move on to the second of my issue with the plot (or rather, the premise), it’s not very original, this kind of idea (going through school, hopefully creating relatable characters and interesting drama along the way) is a cliche. And it annoys me even more because I know that another plot (the digital world) exists and is far more original and interesting. In short, I would advise including more of that. For books that deal with alternate worlds, I would suggest Narnia (specifically books 2-4, but they’re short enough you could probably knock one and a half out in a weekend), the Finovar tapestry, by guy gavriel Kay (who helped Christopher Tolkien in the Herculean task of piecing together the silmarillion out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s many many notes) is a more mature look at this (at least that’s what I’ve heard, I haven’t read it yet, I’m just giving recommendations) and, my personal favorite, the unfinished Zimmimavia trilogy by ER eddison, two plots run parallel and the chronology runs backwards (in relation to publication order) and contains some of the most vivid and imaginative scenes in early fantasy (and considering its company, that is very high praise indeed).

To close this out, I have some briefer (and less inflated) criticisms, these ones on style. I still believe you need to do a little work on tailoring your style to present tense. The biggest problem is that many of the expressions you use, which would be fine in past tense, become clunky and garbled, like this one: “Rome rises and falls in the time it takes to go through Mrs. Zhang’s syllabus“, the problem is, as I said the tense, personally I find the present tense, especially for phrases like ‘Rome rises and falls’ to be very grand and forceful, this is not a problem in and of itself (I employ this often I my poetry), but it does stick out.

So to sum up: keep hold of plot, work on style, keep up the good work. I look to see more from you and plan to review the other chapter you published.

If you’re interested in reading any of my work, I’ve written several poems, two short stories, and a collection of three shorts.

Again, keep up the good work!

This was my review. Goodbye.

Ventomology says...

Thanks! I'm sure I'd enjoy a lot of those books, but I'm also not really dealing with an alternate world in this. We'll get there. It's written, just going through some editing right now.

Out of curiosity, have you read any books in present tense that you liked? I've received different comments about it, probably because it's somewhat nonstandard, but every time someone says they don't like something about it, I find that's exactly one of the reasons I picked it. I find the force of the tense very fun, and maybe if I had some examples to look at, I'd be able to refine it.

Again, thanks so much!

IamI says...

I do know of one series: the vagrant saga by Peter Newman . It%u2019s a science fiction series with awesome covers. There are three books: vagrant, seven, and malice, I%u2019ve been meaning to purchase them myself for a while, but I haven%u2019t got around to it. Portions of the death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy are also in present tense, I would highly recommend it, it%u2019s like fifty pages and Tolstoy really is as good as everyone says.

Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.
— Captain Jack Sparrow