"The way I heard it, the founders felt that being forced to kill random monsters would somehow give the students a valuable experience...you know, help us build character? How getting into fights is supposed to make somebody a better sorcerer or bard is beyond me..."
Tales of MU is an online erotic prose fiction series. Originally described by the author as an experiment in using LiveJournal to promote her stories, it has since taken on a life of its own. The first four plotlines have been collected into self-published print editions.The story revolves around the life of Mackenzie "Mack" Blaise, a self-hating half-demon student at Magisterius University, a college of enchantment in an alternate universe where Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy and magic exist in place of modern technology. While not quite a deconstruction, it makes frequent joking allusions to common tropes of fantasy gaming.The story, at least for the first half or so of the first year's chapters, frequently veers off into sexual territory, arguably at the expense of the plot, but usually by offering a different take on a difficult or sensitive topic. For instance, the second book offered Mackenzie's attempt to describe in first-person narrative her first orgasm, without her realizing that's what she was having. Overall, the sexual content has become much less frequent, but when it shows up, it does so with gusto.The series has a well-developed cast of recurring characters, but the "core" cast is roughly as follows:
Mack, of course. We soon learn that her hang-ups are due to being raised by a fanatically religious (and rather scary) grandmother.
Amaranth, a kind-hearted nymph with an excessive need to see the good in everyone. Despite this sometimes dangerous blind spot, she becomes an extraordinarily good influence on Mack after they start a relationship.
Steff, a transgender half-elf necromancy student with a gleeful "evil" bent. She dates a half-ogre prince polyamorously (being also involved with Amaranth and Mack) and plans on becoming his Torture Technician after college. Steff's characterization uses a number of villain tropes in a way that's hard to quantify.
Two, a golem. She was designed to want to do what she's told, then set free when her creator's wife was creeped out. She initially has to be given specific instructions on how to act like a normal person, but has slowly become more self-sufficient and independent. She replaces Puddy (see below) as Mack's roommate for a time.
Ian, the most prominent and sympathetic plain-old-human in the story. He acts as the representative of normalcy, although he has his own demons, most involving his relationship with his father.
Dee, a dark elf, although her people call themselves simply "elves" and call the other kind of elves faint elves. She is a good friend of Two's, and is growing to be a good friend of Mack's. She veers between friendship and irritation with Steff, with whom she has serious disagreements on pretty much everything. She is a priestess of Arakhis, the dark elf goddess, and is studying to be a Subtle Arts (telepathy) major. She is usually the most serious-minded and level-headed of the central characters, and has a rather dry wit.
The major antagonists (to date):
Puddy, Psycho Lesbian and, at first appearance, Manipulative Bastard. Although still a recurring character, her reign as a serious antagonist comes to an end pretty quickly; Word of God is that the author didn't feel the original situation was sustainable. She all but disappeared from the story for a long while, but reappeared in the gladiatorial ring, and her success there is one of the series' mysteries. She's only had a handful of appearances since then, and has not appeared in the second year's material to date.
Sooni, fox-girl from the series' Fantasy Counterpart Culture for Japan. Her characterization follows a similar path to Puddy: she starts out as the Alpha Bitch, but her actual social skills turn out to be quite limited, and her entourage of nekoyokai "friends" is actually composed of slaves. (This is kept secret, as legally slaves wouldn't be allowed to attend college.) When she last had a prominent role in the story, her characterization veered from comic to terrifying, as she tyrannizes her "friends," especially the sympathetically-portrayed Kai.
Mur-Si (also "Mercy"), owner of Tender Mercy's, a shop that specializes in preparing people-meat for consumption. She is of indeterminate race and claims to be half dark elf and half faint elf, but Steff and Dee both claim this is too disgusting a possibility to be true. She's obscenely wealthy, keeps half-demons as pets, and wants to increase her collection...
Mack's father, an unnamed full-blooded demon that Mack calls "the man", some fans call (the) Mack Daddy, and is known as The Man in the Woods in folklore. He's been seen in bonus flashback stories with Mack's mother and has appeared to Mack in her dreams several times. Immediately after the first dream, all Mack's toiletries were spiked with a potion to make people express their innermost feelings - presumably to bring out her evil side, though it didn't quite work out that way. His exact motivations are unknown, and he's a quintessential Manipulative Bastard so it's impossible to be certain if/when he's ever being truthful, but the one thing that's clear is that he's keenly interested in being a part of Mack's life.
Some Sort Of Ridiculous Owl-Turtle Thing: Not exactly a villain, but snarky and annoying (to the characters) and mildly antagonistic. The ROTT was something that Two dreamed up after being told that dreams contain a lot of things that are sort of muddled and part one thing and part another. She took it literally and dreamed up a creature that looks like a ridiculous cross between an owl and a turtle. At first it was mostly comic relief, but it escaped Two's mind by hitching a ride with Dee. It then started showing up in other people's dreams as well, gradually appearing more and more sinister...until the second year, when it begins training Mack on how to develop her mental defenses and hamper Mack Daddy's intrusions in her dreams. It hasn't stopped being irritating, though.
Chapter 496, plus a number of side stories, concluded Mack's first year at MU. The second year has reset the chapter numbering; so far, 191 chapters of the second year have been released, along with more side stories, so many of the tropes below and on the YMMV page are contained in the first year's stories. Specific chapters will be referred to with the Y__-__ format; first blank is the year, second is the chapter number.The story can be found here. Definitely Not Safe for Work!
This story provides examples of:
A God Am I — Invoked by Mack Daddy in his "rebel theology" lesson: a god is anyone who can say this and then back it up by having the power to smite/kill anyone who disagrees with the claim.
Aerith and Bob — Justified given the setting of multiple D&D species of intelligent beings with wildly different cultures mashing up.
Aesop Amnesia — Steff is particularly prone to this. After stabbing herself with a knife she knew nothing about until it tore out half her soul, she spent several days resting and scared everyone close to her and almost died. Immediately after she was handed another magic item by Dee, a character who herself needs to learn to stop handing out magic no one but her is familiar with. She was told not to use it without lots of physical and mental preparation, and only then carefully. Her decision? Chug the whole thing the moment she's alone.
Alpha Bitch — Sooni has elements of this (the haughtiness, the harem of loyal followers) but also subverts it by her followers actually being her slaves, and her self-important, self-absorbed attitude being a symptom of serious delusions.
And Call Him George — Used with Sooni and her "Baby Kai-Kai." Usually funny in a Crosses the Line Twice way, until she crossed the line a third time and refused to get Kai treatment for a cracked skull until it was almost too late.
Anti-Climax — The story spent a few years in real time (a few months in-story) using backstory snippets to set up Mackenzie's grandmother as a very complex character who genuinely loves Mack even though she sometimes has an odd way of expressing it. When we finally actually meet her in-story, however, she's an obnoxious one-dimensional obstructionist combining all the worst traits of a Straw Conservative and a Beloved Grandsmother, who gives the audience (and the characters!) absolutely no reason to sympathize with her viewpoint.
April Fools' Day — An update was posted in 2009, announcing production plans for a SyFy channel spin-off TV show, of which the author claimed pride but apparently had little creative control, resulting in significant deviations from the core themes of the novel. It linked to the writer's Livejournal crossposting, where comments revealed the prank. A few commenters disbelieved the announcement because it referenced "the newly branded SyFy channel" at the end, and were double-pranked to discover Sci Fi's renaming on April 1st, though it was widely known earlier.
Artificial Human — Two is flesh and blood; you'd have to see her runes to know that she's a golem.
Badass Normal — Callahan is an dwarf/elf/ogre/orc mongrel, which probably gives her an edge relative to humans, but she's still normal relative to the dragons and demons in the world. And we never see her using magic. But, among other feats of badassery, she once killed a god. This makes her a good foil for Mack, who as a half-demon has a host of racial advantages (strength, partial invulnerability, flamethrowing) but is a woefully incompetent fighter.
Don't insult a gnome's parents; that gnome will jack you right up.
Similarly, don't say or write the Dark Elf nicknamed Dee's real name and forget to include her mother's name - even when quoting her in a newspaper. She'll, er, repeatedly and politely explain the problem and request an apology and correction, then stage a peaceful protest outside your office when firmly refused. Naked.
Threatening Mack in any fashion is a good way to bring out the Manipulative Bastard in Amaranth, with only one major exception to date.
This may or may not also be a good way to bring out the wrath of Mack Daddy. In an "ask the characters" bonus feature:
"What will you do if Mack is found guilty of the murder she didn't commit?" "The same thing I'd do if she were found guilty of a murder she did commit."
Threatening Two in any fashion is a good way to make Mackenzie see red.
“Here’s the thing, Kai-Kai,” Steff said. “There’s a very simple rule about threatening Two: don’t. The rule is enforced by penalties up to and including horrible burning death, and since we don’t want our friend burning down the dorm when there are camera crews lurking around, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
Big Bad — It's not entirely certain that the overall story will have one, but so far, Mercy, Mack Daddy, and Chancellor Embries have been the most likely candidates for various reasons, with Mercy's plans to enslave Mack and use her to breed an army of demonspawn as the most obvious plan.
Blessed with Suck — Mack can only be harmed by magic...in a setting where magic items are more common than concluded plot threads. She's also very vulnerable to divine energy, especially if it's Khersis-based. By which we mean, any lay worshipper can make the Arms of Khersis, a simple hand sign, and floor her. note Even "lapsed" believers and casually-placed trinket-grade Khersian symbols can cause her debilitating pain. The possibility has been raised that countermeasures might exist, but Mack has so far refused to consider such an unholy action.
Brainwashed — Mack, to a degree, as a result of what happened between her and Embries in Y1-488. He uses his draconic power to force her to be unable to tell anyone about his killing (and more probably, eating) Iona, even through telepathy, other "subtle" means, or even story narrative - so we don't get to see it either. No telling when, or even if, this will be undone.
Broken Aesop — A few times characters stop to Author Filibuster about how important it is to follow certain rules, methodology, and so on in a dom/sub relationship. These same characters, and others, then go on to bend or break nearly all those rules, with no apparent backlash from the story or other characters.
The author did point out in the FAQ that the excessive-harm aspect of this is countered by various characters being invulnerable, possessed of regeneration powers, or just having easy access to magical healing.
Butt Monkey: Mackenzie and Two both in the early chapters, mainly due to Mack's various personal issues and Two's lack of ability to function outside her programming. Both have since moved beyond this.
Call Back: In an early chapter, Mack orders Two to not talk to or sell herself to a slaver they run into. In Y2-85, Two tells Mack essentially the same thing when they run into a shopkeeper who wants to obtain Mack, with the implication that she'd then be sold to Mercy.
This happens gradually with several characters, with Mack being the most prominent. A large chunk of Y2-130 is a conversation between Mack and Chessa, an RA from another dorm, in which Mack discusses both her development and the potential for Chessa to do the same.
Several chapters feature Mack noting this in-story about other characters.
In the second-year OT story "The Healing Process", Barley, of all people, shows a remarkable improvement in maturity and self-awareness.
Character Shilling: After one chapter reintroduced fan un-favorite Jamie in the second year and he started acting like he might want to hang out with Mackenzie (or maybe do more than just hang out with her), the readers' reaction in the comments was predictable. In the chapters immediately afterwards, a bunch of characters had a big conversation about how Jamie really isn't all that bad, honest.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder — Pretty much a way of life for elven middlings in Treehome (and, it's implied, for middlings in general), as Steff lays out in Y2-151. It's really not a nice way to live, for anyone there.
Steff: I mean, that’s the real secret of Treehome: the whole place would be a lot more livable for almost everyone who’s there if they’d stop competing for power, but nobody’s going to do that because first they’d have to admit they’re personally losing the competition. There are poor fuckers there who are going to spend the next quarter-century being some dude’s spittoon or footrest and thinking to themselves that they’re working their way to the top or just biding their time until the moment is right. They’d be the first ones to turn on someone who suggests upending the whole system.
Continuity Overlap — When Mackenzie's clothes, hospital bed, and knife disappeared in a botched teleportation spell, they all appeared in other stories by the author. Her bra was never found until it was returned to Mack in a second-year OT story.
Crossover — Jamie, the lead character from More Tales of MU, shows up in the second year and appears to want to try to patch up his relationship with Mack.
Crystal Dragon Jesus — Khersis, "Kherstianity", "Mechans". (With bonus actual crystal dragon in the Kherstian mythology.)
Curse — The Bane of Khersis, placed by Lord Khersis on humans who had mated with demons after casting the demons into hell. See In the Blood and Living Aphrodisiac below for more details.
And your tainted generations shall consume each other in gluttonous lust
Cursed with Awesome — Mack, though when she goes without "food" for too long the curse becomes somewhat more clear...
Cute Monster Girl — Several. Subverted with the half-ogres, as Victor is described as better looking than Belinda.
Deadpan Snarker — Dee's stoic nature makes pretty much any jibe of hers run in this direction.
Amaranth: One of [Steff's] friends is a virgin! What are the odds? Dee: I would say abysmal. But apparently they were high enough.
Deconstruction: Sooni is a living deconstruction of Magical GirlAnime. She seems to think she's a shoujo protagonist in real life—in a world where magic is real—and actually treats people around her the way that anime characters do, including the physical abuse that's usually Played for Laughs in shows. It comes across as rather horrific, especially because she literally does not seem to understand the difference between TV and reality.
Diary — Two keeps one, as shown in the "Diary of a Golem Girl" side stories during the first year. They give a look into Two's take on her world and her relationships with her friends that isn't always seen in the main story, as well as her mindset and the struggles she deals with trying to expand past her initial "programming."
Didn't See That Coming: When The Man faces off with Samuel at the tower, The Man's plan falls apart when he's seen holding a pitchfork after Samuel falls off the tower, screaming, with a cut from the pitchfork on his face. "The half-demon is seen as a killer" theory (which is what The Man was aiming for) seems rather unlikely when there's a stranger holding the murder weapon still up on the tower.
The Ditz — Keri LaBelle. While she does have the occasional insightful or worthwhile question, most of the time she's a complete moron. Problem is, her (well-deserved) reputation for ditziness gets a bit Flanderized in the mind of the teacher that she and Mackenzie have together, to the point where he's verbally abusive to her even on the rare occasions when she actually says something worthwhile in class.
Does This Remind You of Anything? — Once a month, Mack turns into a murderous psychopath, and the only cure is bleeding. The difference being that it's somebody else's blood, not hers. It doesn't save her from having to do the real thing, either. Also, see Fantastic Racism below.
Easy Sex Change — Played with. Dee gives Steff a transformative potion to help resolve some of her body issues. The potion knocks Steff out for several chapters worth of story time, and the eventual result is that Steff now has a much more obviously feminine body, including breasts, but also has a noticeably bigger penis.
Eldritch Abomination — The Eyeless Fish-Beast is a mild version. It doesn't drive anyone to madness, but it looks really creepy, hovers through the air without wings or any visible means of support, has odd telepathic/psychic abilities, and is explicitly described as "something that’s not supported by the laws of this reality, so it carries its own laws around with it." And it's not even an antagonist; it's more like one character's extraplanar guard dog.
Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors — Played with; as a fire-aligned half-demon, Mack is weak to ice and cold, but instead of being hurt more by ice attacks, this manifests as a complete intolerance for temperatures below 60 degrees or so, and having to read the fine print on any medical Magitek that might use cold.
Samuel, a part-demon student introduced in a side story that takes place some time before the main story, feeds on children's laughter.
Samuel: It’s a bit metaphysical, if you mean the workings of it, [but] if you mean the logistics… I operate a puppet theater on the weekends. The children go home a bit more serious-minded than before they saw me, but they soon recover.
The moss that Mack collects in the forest with Amaranth combines this with Empathic Environment. It's revealed to be passion’s flame moss, which apparently feeds off sexual energy. It grows best in "trysting spots", and its glow and heat increase when exposed to lovemaking.
Ephebophile — Played with in the side story "As I Went Down to the River", which is about Laurel Ann and Mack Daddy's relationship. The "playing with" revolves around it never being clear if Mack Daddy was genuinely attracted to Laurel Ann or was just out to corrupt her, especially with her being the daughter of a paladin.
Epiphany Therapy — Mackenzie goes from being very socially distant and sexually hung up to obnoxious and promiscuous in the course of three to four weeks.
The author used to "forbid" people to write fanfiction for the series. Now, Fan Fic is allowed, but proper credit must be given to the author for the world and characters and the author does not want to know about it under any circumstances.
Mack does this both ways — she's had to deal with this all her life since she's a half-demon, and her upbringing led her to be rather racist herself, at least at the start.
Harlowe Dorm is where most of the non-human students are housed and is generally looked down upon by the rest of the campus.
Several races have analogues to real ethnic groups, like the Dark Elves to Middle Easterners, complete with corresponding ethnic slurs like "cowlhead" and "spider jockey".
The half-naga Celia never misses a chance to snark about the more mammalian members of the cast.
"Halfling" is a subtly racist nickname for gnomes.
Fantasy Counterpart Appliance — Magical TVs and refrigerators are mentioned by name, crystal balls are used as computers (complete with "aethernet") and mirrors are like phones (including pocket-sized "smart" mirrors).
Fantasy Counterpart Culture — Every society (even non-human ones) seems to match up with a real counterpart, and the history of the Imperial Republic often resembles the USA's. Pointedly, the "European" cultures don't seem to have colonized nearly as much of the world at any point.
Filler/Filler Strips — The series attempts to present a close-to-real-time story, which makes some parts seem written just to make the deadline. For example: one of the early chapters was devoted to Amaranth and Mack walking a few streets, getting on a subway-equivalent, getting out, and walking into a building.
Steff's general cluelessness. All of the main characters—including Sooni—get some major character development in one way or another, actually learning and growing... but Steff just becomes more and more of a dumbass as the series progresses.
Mack is smart enough to realize that "we have to solve this by ourselves" isn't by far the smartest thing to say when dealing with a powerful demonic artifact.
During Mack's fight with Belinda, she comments how well the half-ogre girl fits a number of high school jock clichés.
Gladiator Games — Due to wound-simulating weapons and cheap healing magic to cover actual injuries, straight-out combat takes the place of tamer sports. "Skirmish" is the team sport in the Imperial Republic. One-on-one gladiatorial bouts are a runner-up in popularity.
The rulers of the counterparts to Japan and Britain.
Averted by the Emperor of the Imperial Republic of Magisterion, who is constitutionally limited so that he can't be one.
Gone Horribly Wrong — It's eventually revealed that Amaranth's personality is a result of a socially-awkward twelve-year-old interfering with her creation process. He wanted Amaranth basically to be a savior-of-nerds, then was too afraid to have any contact with her, leaving her in the dark about the whole thing. "Horribly" is an overstatement, but it's definitely caused problems.
Good Girls Avoid Abortion — Averted; Hazel reveals in Y2-86 that she did indeed have an abortion. Her being in a place to have one at all is just one more in a long list of black marks her mother's family has against her.
Hammer Space — Amaranth. Especially overt in her case, as unlike most Hammer Space users, Amaranth doesn't even have clothing as a supposed hiding place for items she puts "away". Also, lampshaded early in the series when Mack keeps trying to catch her bringing something Out or putting it Away.
"I couldn’t help but notice that he did things like use “fight” twice in the same sentence… and “underprivileged underclass?” It also seemed like he just dropped commas in wherever he felt like it… like there was no actual rules regarding their use… like he was just in love with them as a punctuation mark, or something." (Note that Mack, at another point, remarked in passing that she had once been marked down on an essay for using too many ellipses.)
Several of the characters cannot or will not eat certain types of food. Amaranth, for example, is a strict vegetarian.
Some, including Mack, have no need for (ordinary) food at all. Mack even believed for a time that her body couldn't process real food, although once this was proven false, she learned to enjoy eating and started to fill out like a normal human being would.
I Feel Angry — Two is absolutely adorable when she's (briefly) under the influence of a Boundless Rage Curse.
I Should Write a Book About This — Subverted. In the final chapter of Volume I, Mack's therapist suggests that she write about her experiences at MU in order to help work out her issues. The final paragraph of that chapter mentions that she got 17 pages into said autobiographic writing, and then got bored and gave up.
This is a temptation for Mack, especially during her period.
The "gray" elf Mercy runs a shop catering specifically to races who feed on humans and other intelligent races.
Mack Daddy eats the blood of a virgin's heart roughly every 13 months.
Chancellor Embries is strongly implied to have eaten several of his secretaries, and Y1-488 all but says outright that he did the same to Iona, although the story has set things up so that the latter may never be known for sure.
People are generally referred to on this wiki as holding or carrying one. That wouldn't do Steff justice. She seems to have had one surgically implanted.
Mack seizes it and runs for the end zone by risking slavery to finance some magic jewelry. Intense emotional context to it or not, everyone calls her on the incredible stupidity of that, even Amaranth.
Mack is convinced that she's irredeemably evil, despite several people close to her firmly disagreeing. It doesn't help that all of the previous half-demon students at the university have come to bad ends, and in the setting, half-demons are usually institutionalized. There's also her extreme vulnerability to divine energy; even someone invoking Khersis near her can harm her. Her grandmother really doesn't help things when she tells Mack in Y1-420 that because of her demon blood, Mack is (probably) inescapably damned, and the best she can do is to live as long as she can suppressing her infernal nature as much as possible.
Hilariously, The Man himself, the only full-blooded demon to have appeared in the series as of yet, is the practical living example that half-demons do NOT behave like demons; he said so himself. He is anything but beastly.
The second-year OT story Methods, Motivations, and Meetings reveals that in the distant past, Lord Khersis cursed female part-demonsnote although the wording and whether it was a literal curse or just strong words are matters of theological debate, as noted in-story so that it is very difficult for them to successfully breed with other demonbloods. See Living Aphrodisiac below for the side effect.
Amaranth is a deconstruction. She's nude practically 24x7, and functions as a fanservice character, but in-story she has legitimate social and spiritual reasons for doing so. As a nymph, her body is considered a gift, and thus covering it is the taboo — an inverse of the standard nudity taboo.
For someone as uninterested in sex as Two is, her lingerie is very racy, and she has no qualms about wearing it around Ian, which makes him uncomfortable.
Jedi Mind Trick — The OT story about the events that led to the razing of MU decades prior to the main story reveal that Mack Daddy can subtly influence people's thoughts. He does this to Jennifer and Eugene to try to maneuver Samuel into a trap. Professor Ariadne Einhorn may also have been under his influence, and might still be to the story's present day.
Jerk Jock — Mack hates Skirmish players, though Amaranth of course is more understanding. Belinda is one, though this seems more tragic in her case, or at least something unfortunate she's trying to move beyond, when we see her later.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold — One of the more charitable interpretations of Steff, especially in regards to her relationship with Mack.
Jerk with a Heart of Jerk — Callahan appears to belong in this category. You start to like her once she shows genuine interest in helping Mack learn to fight, but if Mack Daddy is to be believed, she's also writing weekly letters to the administration asking permission to kill Mack. Also, her commitment to teaching is arguably ego-driven: "If I can make this wimp a good fighter, how awesome would that make me?"
Puddy is foul-mouthed, loud, boorish, and seems to revel in being as obnoxious as she can be, and that's before considering her being verbally, physically, and/or sexually abusive.
The Leighton twins are bullies and jackasses, especially Tara. It was worse before they were merged.
In the first year, Mackenzie drifted into this territory whenever she got into an argument...which was fairly frequently. She's gotten much better in the second year.
Celia, partly because of her generally surly attitude and partly because of her contempt for anything mammalian.
The delving students who Mack encounters after the botched teleport spell (see Continuity Overlap above). One wants to kill her for XP, another (Seth) is ambivalent about whether she lives or dies, and another (Lacey) half-heartedly argues to let her live. This gets reinforced even more by Seth's petulant attitude when he's caught by Eloise after he and Lacey mess with a dwarven sword as a prank in a second-year side story.
Jerkass Has a Point: Celia's snarky comments are often tactless, intolerant and insensitive... but that doesn't mean they're not accurate. She is, for example, the first one to explicitly point out Puddy's abusive tendencies.
You’re fucking blind if you think there’s anything healthy going on here!
Karma Houdini — Amaranth feels that Barley hasn't been appropriately handled by their goddess, Mother Khaele, for what amounts to blasphemy for a nymph.
Kayfabe — Apparently it's an open secret that all the "soap opera for men" drama in professional gladiator leagues is scripted.
Knight Templar Parent — It's debatable whether Mackenzie's grandmother is this, was simply doing what was necessary to keep her granddaughter from growing up to be a rampaging demon, or a little of both.
Laser-Guided Karma — Seth and Lacey are polymorphed into mice by magic wards as a punishment for trying to take the dwarven sword in one of Mack's classes off its stand. Shortly afterwards, Lacey is eaten by a cat. Eloise catches Seth before he can suffer the same fate.
Living Aphrodisiac — Demonbloods, as a result of the maybe-blood curse placed on their kind by Lord Khersis in the distant past. This goes a long way toward explaining why so many non-human characters, and especially the merwomen, are attracted to Mack. The catch is that the curse makes demon-blooded females irresistibly attractive to predators, people of monstrous races who would like to eat them...including other demons.
Lolcats — A Running Gag in the series is that Suzi is only marginally fluent in Pax, and usually ends up speaking in Lolcat phrases. When she speaks her own language...she's a self-centered bitch who considers anyone unable or unwilling to speak her own language to be barbarians. Of course.
Implied to be a motive for Two's creator designing her to be completely hairless except for her head, although Two does later deny that he used her sexually.
Played with by Mack Daddy, who feeds on innocence.
Love Letter Lunacy — One of the minor second year subplots is Nicki (and the rest of the crew) learning she has a elven secret admirer via being slipped a thong and veil in Y2-125. In Y2-146, we finally learn that it's Grace.
Love You and Everybody — Both used and averted. It's the well-known nymph belief system, so the first time Amaranth tells Mack that she loves her, Mack objects that Amy loves everyone, which Amy readily admits before telling Mack that she loves her specifically and deeply. That being said, Amaranth does at times find it hard to love everybody, especially those who mean ill towards Mack, and Barley seems to have thrown this idea to the wind.
Luminescent Blush — Mack gets the text equivalent from a suggestive comment from Steff in Y2-2.
Magical Computer — Played with: students use crystal balls to "gaze the ethernet".
Magitek — The aforementioned crystal balls, as well as pretty much all the technology you'd expect in a modern university, only powered by magic.
Magic Versus Science — While magic works and is commonplace, belief in the power of scientific thinking is generally regarded as either dangerously deluded or childish fantasy. The Mechans are treated as the counterpart to Wiccans in our universe. See also Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum below.
Mama Bear — Kinky relationship and hippie pacifism notwithstanding, Amaranth is very protective of Mack, which becomes very clear several times.
A Million Is a Statistic — In the "Veil murder" arc, several students died that night, but Leda is the only one who gets much attention, specifically because she was foreign royalty.
Missing Episode — Y1-489. It would cover the time in Embries’ office where he deals with the matter of Leda’s death, magically forcing Mack to bear witness, while preventing her from passing on the experience to anyone else, including those who are viewing the world through her thoughts and perceptions (i.e. the readers). Accordingly, the entire narrative (including chapter heading and link) cannot be seen.
Mood-Swinger — Sooni. Someone needs to get that girl on some mood-stabilizers, stat.
Multi-Armed and Dangerous — Used in an odd fashion with Mariel. She has four arms, and is browbeaten by Puddy into spying on Mack.
Sooni: When I was younger, my father told me that he could ask his valet for the smallest pinfeather of a bird sitting on a certain branch of a certain tree on the other side of the world, and it would be on his desk by the afternoon. Can your father do that? Mack: My father is a soulless killer abomination, Sooni. Sooni: But could he do that?
While it had led to my pleasant morning with Ian, having classes with people who knew me seemed fraught with complications, and it didn’t seem to matter if they were friends, enemies, lovers, or Sooni.
Taken to an extreme: the "nerd" character is a gorgeous nymph, naked except for her nerd-glasses.
Mack is an introverted geek strongly hinted to be better-looking than she considers herself to be (even Belinda calls her "cute", and she's got serious issues with Mack).
Never Found the Body — After the riots that destroyed MU in the backstory, Melanie reveals in a letter that Samuel's body was one of many that was never recovered from the rubble that was left over from the halted excavations. Whether or not he's actually dead is unknown.
No Periods, Period — Inverted; what happens to Mack during her cycle is one of the curses of her half-demon nature and a minor plot point.
No Sense of Personal Space — Grace, as a result of her youth and lack of experience with human interaction, which she admits to Mack after groping her to see if she's pierced.
Mack:I’ve had very bad experiences with people who didn’t respect my boundaries. Grace: Eep! [...] Sorry, I’m...okay, I’m not a kid anymore, and you’re not elves, but elven children are a lot more hands-on with each other, and I...I haven’t fully adjusted to not-childhood yet.
Noble Demon — Played with by Vice-Chancellor Embries. He's a "noble" dragon, employed by MU as their ace in the hole against the campus being razed to the ground again. He does, however, have an unfortunate habit of eating his secretaries. As Professor Hall says, "Few people mistake a noble dragon for a nice one more than once."
Nominal Hero — Callahan, an amoral murderer who was pardoned for her crimes because the Empire needed her skills that badly.
Not Quite Dead — Laurel Ann, Mack's mother, as revealed in a handful of side stories.
Odd Friendship — Many would qualify, but the most eyebrow-lifting so far is between Caron and Nae, a dwarf and kobold who are lovers, although their races are blood enemies.
Oh Crap — Nicki and Grace's reaction in Y2-146 to Mack telling them that, because of the dreary weather and the curtains being covered, they missed a day of classes while shacked up in Nicki's room...getting to know each other.
One Degree of Separation — Not everyone's been connected yet, but a lot of the backstory chapters seem to be pointing in this direction.
The professor of Pre-Republic History sums it up very succinctly. Evidently they can um... make love for 15 hours straight. That's right, fifteen hours. This also has elements of a deconstruction, as the perfection of the elves takes a toll on their ability to enjoy life, and most end their lives by suicide.
Shown the downside of with Steff the half-elf, who considers her own lifelike drawings to be crude doodles and her boyfriend's skillful harpsichord playing to be terrible. This is besides Steff's many crippling psychological problems, many of which have to do with her feeling inadequate compared to her elven relatives.
Subverted in the spinoff More Tales of MU, when the main character and his elven boyfriend Iason visit Treehome, the place where the elven "middlings" (essentially the elven equivalents of twenty somethings) live. Every single middling is a creep and/or violent pervert (like the elven woman who seduces Jamie, then tries to castrate him to spite Iason). There's also the fact that every single elf, upon learning that Jamie has put on a magical bracelet that lets Iason turn him into a stag any time he wants to, up to and including Jamie's own elven grandfather, have stopped treating Jamie like a separate being and instead seem to view him as a sort of extension of Iason. Truly, in the MUniverse, Our Elves are More Fucked Up.
Also possibly deconstructed with the revelation that Elves don't even need to breathe, and do so only rarely; this is played for as much sheer creepiness factor as possible.
Our Orcs Are Different — Orcs have not been seen so far, perhaps because they're not native to the continent on which the story takes place, but they form part of the cultural backdrop. "Going orcshit" is a common expression, and a history class revealed that orcs occupied the role of Hessian mercenaries in the equivalent of the American Revolution: mooks for hire with a vicious rep. The same class revealed their racial Berserk Button: attacking orc women and children. Callahan is also part orc.
Our Trolls Are Different — Trolls are said to have been made by the gods out of leftovers, as they come in many different heights, limb arrangements, and numbers of heads.
Polyamory — The relationship between Mack, Amaranth, Ian, and Steff. Everyone's boffing everyone except Ian and Steff, partly because they don't exactly get along and partly because Steff's, well, Steff.
Mack's name is a double pun - she's a fire-emitting half-demon with the last name of Blaise, and depending on the translation, "Mackenzie" can mean either "born of fire" or "child of the fair one", or rather, "child of the hottie".
A mermaid named Feejee.Reference: The island of Fiji
It's hinted early on that Mackenzie's grandmother might have once been a famous demon-slaying paladin. Mackenzie, of course, has never heard of any of it and finds the whole thing ridiculous, even as the evidence continues to mount, until it's finally confirmed in Y1-422.
Coach Jillian "Jilly" Callahan has retired from being a mercenary and a successful dragon-slayer to teaching in the combat-athletics department of MU, but has not in any way retired from being Badass.
Callahan gets even more ridiculous when you find out more of her past. She is also known as Gillian Gottmörder and she received an imperial pardon for three counts of attempted deicide (one of which succeeded, but they don't have a law to cover that), two counts of genocide, five counts of high treason against the Imperial Republic (which normally merits summary execution), and her various "petty" murders and property destructions. She also apparently stopped at least two attempts by the giants to retake the world. Callahan takes badassUp to Eleven.
She has also killed seven greater dragons. Possibly eight. One loses track.
RPG Mechanics Verse — Done very subtly, but played completely straight and not for laughs. Specifically, it's a Tabletop RPG Mechanics Verse, with gods and other extremely powerful entities in the role of Game Master. For example, Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies is a known and well-understood phenomenon in adventuring circles, and No Fair Cheating is a codified fundamental principle of magic, on par with the Laws of Thermodynamics.
Schedule Slip — The weekly schedule (not updated since 2009) claims that MU updates 3x a week, whereas actual updates come more like 3x a month. The author apologized for it at the end of an incentive story.
To elaborate, the entire schedule slip saga went like this: Started out daily. Then the author missed a Sunday or two. Then the author decided to take weekends off and made it M-F. Then three times a week. Then to the "it updates when it updates" schedule. It's now on an "updates every 4th day"-schedule.
Rules Lawyering — Hazel does this to justify her wargaming strategy and gets called on it.
Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum — Want to scientifically analyse the world of Tales Of MU? "Well, this is where a lot of the unique undead, cursed artifacts, and tainted lands come from. This is how magical abominations are created." Plus, space isn't always orthogonal: distances can shift between points, and some areas are bigger inside than when measured without. The faery realm exists alongside the mundane world, the realm of giants exists "above" it, and there are gods aplenty. Elves don't need to breathe. And the world itself may be sitting in a magical pocket universe rather than orbiting a star...
This conflict of science vs. fantasy is exhaustively discussed/argued between Mack and someone from a science-based plane in the OT story "Magisterius University and the Methods of Obstinancy."
Screw Yourself — Acantha makes out with her mockboxed replica of herself in Y2-166.
Set Swords to Stun — Justified in Callahan's classes, as the roster would be drastically reduced after each class if they used their real weapons instead of the nonlethal "mocked" versions they use.
She Is Not My Girlfriend — Mack even protests that the nymph she's having sex with isn't her girlfriend, she's her owner. Apparently that's better...somehow. This does set the stage for someone else to become her acknowledged girlfriend once she's less terrified of the term.
The most pervasive and obvious is to Dungeons & Dragons, as the story takes place in "the future" of a D&D-esque medieval fantasy setting, with many of its tropes used, subverted, or played with in the contemporary, multi-racial setting. Nonhuman races are somewhat-recognizable versions of various D&D creatures, with standard D&D premises about them often treated as humans' stereotypes of those races. Vancian Magic is not used, but magical weapons and such are quite similar to D&D magical items...except when they aren't what they sound like. For example, Rings of Protection are contraceptive items. In a more direct fashion, MU's health facility is named the Gygax Memorial Healing Center.
The university employs a lawyer by the name of Mitch McSmeagol.
Gnomes are essentially hobbits in all but name. They live in shires and don't wear shoes. "Halfling" is considered a racial slur that refers to gnomes. Some of them have a certain propensity for adventures, though they consider the very concept quite improper and really don't like to talk about it, to the point that Hazel gets put off her dinner by the group discussing adventures in Y2-137. However, they have a cultural tradition of "forming a fellowship against the darkness" when hard times come around.
Despite being neither, the humor-impaired Mack (especially with Amaranth).
More literally, Ian.
Strawman Political — Generally averted. Plenty of characters with different viewpoints on any number of topics are portrayed quite realistically:
Mackenzie, a sheltered girl who spent most of her life living with a very parochial Knight Templar grandmother, gets the "fun" of being both a victim of discrimination and bigotry and occasionally making ignorant remarks that offend and horrify her friends. That being said, she will allow herself to be proven wrong, unlike your garden-variety bigot.
Played straighter in a non-canon filler story by a guest author, with anthropology students treated as patronizing jackasses who need killin' because they're just so darnannoying that even all-loving pacifists will countenance their murder.
Played comedically straight by the newspaper editor and the unnamed feminist who objected to a bake sale by the school's equivalent of a Gay/Straight Alliance.
Stripperiffic — Grace is introduced to Mack and the audience wearing only a set of elaborately-tied (and very sheer) scarves that leaves nothing to the imagination.
Stupid Good — Early on, Maliko seems to assume this about Mack.
Super Senses — During the second year, Mack learns that she can use her innate magical ability to boost her senses.
Sure, Why Not? — A few world-building chapters have been constructed from questions submitted by readers through the story's discussion threads.
Mack does not want to worship at Sooni's feet...or kiss her ass...or lick her pussy while being called filth...
A simultaneous use and inversion: For the first year and part of the second, whenever anyone asked about her mother's death, all Mack would say is "It wasn't my fault." Not very specific, but no one called her on how suspicious that sounded...until the ridiculous owl-turtle thing did so, which got her wondering about how her mother really did die.
Sympathy for the Devil — At then end of Y2-85, Two gives a two-star review to the shop whose owner wanted Mack for Mercy because it was very clean.
Talking Is a Free Action — Subverted. Multiple paragraphs are often devoted to Mack's thoughts and observations to what's going on around her, but she is constantly being called out by those around her for "spacing out" when she does this.
Talking to the Dead — Melanie's letter to Samuel in the final chapter of the OT story about the razing of MU.
Took a Level in Badass — Mack, in small but definite increments as she starts improving her fighting skills in Callahan's class, being really proactive about defending herself from Mack Daddy, and trying to find out about her mother.
Transgender — Steff. Played with in that, while Steff can "pass" just fine in human society, she looks like a Drag Queen among elves or those who've spent a lot of time with elves. This is made all the more tragic by the Culture Clash between the two culture's views on gender: human culture is dangerously transphobic, elvish culture not so much, but Steff has no hope of passing among elves, and they have little patience for her efforts anyway.
The story is told from Mack's first-person perspective, and she's often clearly less than honest with herself, let alone the reader. Subjectivity creeps in even when it's not obvious.
Barley telling her version of her most evil moment takes a hard left turn at "unreliable" and heads straight on into Delusionalville. What makes this example even more interesting is that she told it to a character who is a mind-reader; therefore Barley clearly believes her version of the story.
Any time Puddy opens her mouth.
The Q&A session, in which the author invited readers to post questions for certain characters, who then answered them, takes this trope to extremes. Some characters are more unreliable than others, of course...
Webcomic Time — Hundreds of chapters and more than five books equal up to something under or around five weeks of the first year of school.
Ian wants to learn to use fire magic, not because he has any personal interest in it, but because his father is a big fire wizard.
Turns out this is part of why Sooni's so screwed up. Her father wanted a boy, and ended up ignoring her almost completely during her childhood, so now she wants to make him proud of her, even though the readers can tell she never will...
What the Hell, Hero? — Dee's pretty good at this when necessary, but has also been on the receiving end.