In Which Mackenzie Looks To The West

I left the healing center with a plan and a tentative schedule for future sessions. The funny thing was that I really did feel like I was leaving my worries behind me… or ahead of me. I had them scheduled for a later date so I didn’t have to bother with it.

The little bit of the weekend that remained just felt normal, even if it was a brand new sort of normal. I still noticed the weight of my clothes, but it wasn’t strange. I kept bouncing around different ideas about being more aware without feeling the need to go back around over them for problems or pitfalls.

I spent a little time looking up at the sky, something I hadn’t spent much time doing since I was a small child.

I can look directly at the sun without being hurt. I can’t see much when I’m doing it, not unless I stare at it long enough for my eyes to adjust, but there’s no more pain than when the lights come on suddenly after a long sleep in the dark and no lasting effect when I look away. I’m not sure if it’s my fire affinity that protects me or the fact that the sun is natural… probably both, or else the pain would probably be greater even if there was no damage.

I didn’t spend all afternoon staring at the sun. I just looked at it to confirm that it still worked the way I remembered, then took a few moments to take in the sky.

The dome of the world was the same vivid blue as it should have been. There weren’t a lot of clouds… just the thin wispy ones that form high up enough to pool against it.

A hawk… or some kind of raptor that I decided to call a hawk because of my total lack of real knowledge of birds of prey… was circling overhead, out above west campus if I was any judge of such things.

Which I wasn’t… it could just as easily have been out over the deep woods. It was far enough away that the only way I could recognize it as a maybe-hawk and not a crow or a robin or a heirophant was its altitude and the long, banking circles it made in the air.

I tried to imagine how it would look to Steff, with her elven eyes… or semi-elven, anyway. Dee would have better eyesight, but bright light strained her eyes and She would probably be able to pick out its individual feathers, to see the weird scaly pattern on its feet. If birds’ feet actually looked like that… I couldn’t remember the last time I’d looked at a close-up of a bird’s talons that wasn’t in a comic book or something.

Have I mentioned that I’m not a ranger?

Keeping my eyes focused on the bird, I focused my attention on my own eyes. They had their own existence as objects within me, but they were inextricably bound up within me. Their energy was my energy. It was also their energy, but it was hard to separate them out and deal with them on their own terms. It was like trying to catch hold of mist… mist mixed up with other, identical but separate mist.

Eventually I realized I was going about it the wrong way. I wanted to boost my eyesight… that was a property of my eyes, but because of the way everything was wrapped together that meant it was also a property of me. I didn’t need the specific focus.

I relaxed and found my vision, then drew into my reserves of magical energy and pushed it up a bit. Instantly the world became more vivid. Everything that was in focus became clear… things that had lacked focus gained it.

The bird that I had chosen to call a hawk remained way the fuck over to the west. It looked a bit less like a shadow, but it appeared no larger or closer or clearer.

That was one lesson learned. My vision… unlike that of the bird that was very possibly a hawk… was not intended to see very small things from very far away. If I wanted to do that, I would need to get fancy. I would either need to delve into the smaller properties that made up the general quality of vision and find one that related to distance vision, or wait until I’d learned how to take properties of things and glue them into other things… like the hawk’s vision.

Eagle eyes.

That kind of metaphor-magic was one of the oldest and most basic forms of enchantment, but it was also outside of my experience and frame of reference… definitely not the sort of thing I wanted to mess around with unsupervised.

If I was successful, I could end up with more avian traits than I’d counted on. A few stray feathers in my hair wouldn’t be a big deal, but too much of a bird brain could be a problem… the last thing the world needed was me with bonus predatory instincts added in.

Although I couldn’t see it that much more clearly, somehow it began to feel wrong to think of the bird as a hawk… I didn’t have a better label, but I was sure it wasn’t a hawk. Actually, thinking of it as a bird set off the same little twinge of “wrong” in my head… and as I followed that thought, I realized that I wanted to think of it as a person.

Her as a person… a human, to be more specific.

I did know at least one human woman who could put on the form of a bird and wing her way through the skies, but it wasn’t like I was recognizing this specific bird as Eloise Desjardins, the secular druid who was a TA in one of my classes and thus concluded that she was human. I just couldn’t look at the bird and think “bird”.

The longer I looked at it, the more sure I was looking at a human. Eloise was the most obvious explanation for how a human would come to be circling over the woods to the west, but that was me rationalizing from an irrational impulse.

Was it, though? Was it irrational? I couldn’t find a reason for it, but the idea was coming across so strongly that I felt it had to be coming from somewhere.

I tore my eyes from the sky and looked around me. Normally the people around me receded into the background in the same way that I usually hoped to do with regards to them. Today, here and there, they popped out. When I looked towards the towers… far to the north on the edge of campus, but visible… I saw flashes in some of the windows that I was sure were people and not just odd reflections.

Not just people… humans, specifically.

I let go of the thread of energy I’d barely been conscious of holding and my sight snapped back to normal. I didn’t have eyes like an eagle’s, but I did have eyes like a demon’s… or halfway. Demons preyed on humanity. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that a demon’s senses should be especially adept at picking out humans.

That was something I’d have to be careful about… again, the world didn’t need me accidentally magicking my way into being a more efficient predator.

Very carefully, and more out of curiosity than anything else, I dripped a little power into my hearing. I became a bit more aware of things like the wind rustling through the grass and shaking the leaves of the trees, and a lot more conscious of the voices around me… the human ones, anyway. The main thing I was aware of was the humanity of the speaker, followed by an idea of their distance and direction, with any sense of meaning trailing distantly behind.

I hadn’t wanted to passively eavesdrop on everybody walking past anyway, so I dropped the enchantment in a hurry.

Yep. Definitely something I’d have to be careful of, or learn how to screen against. In theory I might be able to learn to work with the human aspects of my senses while ignoring or even diminishing the demon halves… I’d already apparently been doing that, on a mundane and unconscious level. In practice, though, I imagined that would prove difficult… demon or human, it was all me. It all felt the same.

“Hey, do I owe you money?” Eloise asked from behind me.

“What?” I asked, as much as a reflex of surprise as a request for clarification.

Her voice coming at me suddenly out of nowhere probably would have startled me on most days. But on this one, when I’d gone from possibly watching her all the way across campus to picking up on the location of every human around me, it really startled me.

“Let me try again,” she said. “Do I have something on my face?”

“Oh! Had,” I said, realizing that she meant I’d been staring at her. “Feathers. Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare… I mean, I didn’t realize I was staring at a person, at first, I was just watching the sky. I’d just figured out it was you when I stopped.”

“I’m surprised you could tell,” she said. “I took the form of a kestrel because they’re pretty common around here.”

“Is that a kind of hawk?”

“For some definitions of ‘hawk’,” she said. “They’re sometimes called sparrowhawks… but technically, they’re falcons.”

“So, that’s a no, then.”

I was vaguely disappointed, despite having had no confidence in my not-an-identification before.

“It’s not a precise term,” she said. “A falconer might disagree, but common usage makes just about any bird of prey that’s not a buzzard into a hawk.”

“Aren’t buzzards scavengers?”

“So are hawks,” she said. “Just because something’s equipped for killing doesn’t mean it’ll pass up a free meal. Nature is ruthlessly efficient, or really lazy. So… how’d you make me?”

“It was really more of a feeling than anything else,” I said. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“What’s it like to see the world through the eyes of a… kestrel?”

“Indistinct, with flashes of intense focus,” she said. “It’s not quite like being able to zoom in on things really far away… the eye just doesn’t do that. But that’s a convenient way for the human mind to parse it, so it ends up being kind of like that, anyway. You can miss a lot of detail, but water… or anything silvery and ripply… shows up like a big flashing light, and so do little streaks of movement.”

“You saw me standing still, and recognized me,” I said.

“Yeah, that took a lot of concentration,” she said. “People aren’t as ruled by instinct, so I can consciously choose to focus on something as if it were catching my eye.”

“You can do that?” I asked. “Override instinct?”

“If I didn’t, then every time I turned into a hunting bird, I’d be a hunting bird,” she said. “Forever. The impulses are all there, but I have enough of my mind along for the ride that I can sort of shift things around a bit… it’s more like riding a horse than running, if that makes sense. Anyway, don’t you do that?”

“Ride horses?” I asked, confused. “Or turn into birds?”

“Override your instincts,” she said. “Not to point out the hellaphant in the room or anything, but you must have some hunting instincts of your own, and I don’t think you act on them.”

“Oh, yeah, I suppose I don’t,” I said. “Act on them, I mean. They are there. They just don’t come out very often, though, so I’m not sure how much of it is actually self-control.”

“If they’re not coming out, I’d call that self-control,” she said. “Unless you’re only a half-demon half of the time, somehow.”

“If I’m doing anything, I’m not aware of it.”

“That’s the goal, though,” she said, nodding. “That’s what ‘second nature’ means. Our first nature is instinct. We can overcome that with reason and effort, but that’s always a struggle and we’ll sometimes lose. The real solution is to cultivate a second set of instincts, as powerful as the first. A second nature. A better one.”

“Somehow I get the feeling you’re not just talking about falcons and demons,” I said.

“Everybody has instincts,” she said. “Some of them are useful. Some of them are important. Some of them are ugly.”

“I’m surprised to hear a druid talking like that,” I said. “Improving on nature.”

“There are reasons I’m not religious,” she said.

“So… how did you notice me in the first place?”

“Oh, I almost always know when there are eyes on me,” she said. “Especially when magic’s involved, but even if it’s not… it’s one of those survival instincts.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to pry, I was just… trying out a new way of looking at the world.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” she said. “Fifty percent of what I do in the field is finding the right way to look at things… finding the right form, the right eyes, the right mindset. Just mind that you don’t end up staring a hole through someone who’ll bore back.”

“Were you working?”

“Not on anything time-sensitive, or I wouldn’t have stopped to chat,” she said.

“Did you fly all the way over here?” I asked. If I’d managed to miss a kestrel homing in on me like that through a clear blue sky while playing at expanding my powers of perception, I’d be sorely disappointed.

“Nah, I walked,” she said. “Forest walked… you know, step in through a tree, step out through another. It’s a druid thing. I have to get back to it, though… but, hey, I like your new threads. Too much metal for me, of course, on all those zippers and snaps. Anything that wasn’t breathing at one point won’t transform with me or travel with me through the roots for any amount of effort. It’s a good look on you, though.”

“Yeah, I guess I’m trying out all kinds of new ways of looking,” I said.

She snorted.

“That’s not actually funny,” she said. “I want you to know I only laughed right there because I was expecting a joke.”

“There’s a theory that all humor is subverted expectations.”

“Yeah, you can keep it,” she said. “I’ll stick with the idea that all humor is… pardon my elvish… funny shit. Anyway, gotta walk… you might want to look away, this gets kind of disconcerting.”

“Okay,” I said as she started heading for a big oak tree. “See you in class.”

“Yeah, see you!” she said.

I turned away before she reached the tree, and because I was paying attention I heard a sound that was a bit like the rustling of dry leaves… but not much like it. It probably wouldn’t have been pleasant to watch.

Arcane teleportation usually had the decency to cover up what was actually happening with smoke or sparkles or a big flash of light. With more natural forms of magic, the absolute best case scenario was probably what happened when Amaranth put something away… i.e., nothing.

Nothing can be kind of hard for the mind to process.

Once Eloise was back out west, I cautiously ramped up my all my main senses a teeny tiny bit. Just a bit though… while I trusted her expert opinion that instinct could be steered, I didn’t think that my years of experience in burying it completely would be a lot of help if it suddenly broke into a gallop.


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47 Responses to “Chapter 98: Birds I View”

  1. Julian Morrison says:

    What does Mack see when she looks at the sun, and her eyes adjust? Does the MUverse sun have sunspots and flares and stuff? Or is it some mythical thing?

    I wonder if a druid could use iron, if it’s been in haemoglobin? (Does MUverse have haemoglobin? The molecular physics of magic matter sounds messy.)

    I am overthinking this…

    Current score: 0
    • Cernael says:

      Nah. The fundamental building blocks of MUniverse physics are the four elements, not the hundred or so elements in the periodic table. Blood works differently than here. No haemoglobin. Sorry.

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      • Julian Morrison says:

        That’s the trouble with rewriting a little bit of physics but trying to make it look like the real world. You end up recursively rewriting an awful lot of physics, or having to say “it works because plot, don’t poke it” (that’s almost canon, in the MUverse).

        Current score: 2
        • Rey d'Tutto says:

          Poke universe, universe smacks you down like a pile driver made of depleted uranium.

          Current score: 1
      • hoppy says:

        I don’t think the MUniverse is physically different from ours except that magic allows people to interact with it in other ways.

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        • Lyssa says:

          Mostly, they just believe it is. But iron in blood hardly matters; that’s part of a living thing, obviously.

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        • DaemonAngel says:

          In 3 Seas (name might be wrong, it was another of AE’s stories) Mackenzie’s shirt and I think knife are found (from when they were teleported out of the health clinic), and it is mentioned that the objects were unlike anything they had seen, because they were made solely of magic. So yes, the MUniverse is different from ours. Also, physics has as much worth there as magic does here.

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    • Markas says:

      Iron in Haemoglobin is fundamentally different from solid iron. it’s on an oxidized form and have actually ceased to be a metal, so probably not.

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      • lolfighter says:

        The fundamental difference you reference is up to argument, but it is true that the iron in hemoglobin exists in a chemically bound state. But it could (theoretically, at least) be extracted, and you’d get pure iron. The bigger obstacle is quantity.

        Assuming we can extract 100% of the iron in the blood (which is hopelessly optimistic), human blood, according to wikipedia, contains between 6.83 and 11.3mmol/L of hemoglobin. Other animals may have higher concentrations, and you’d probably be working with animal blood in any case. One hemoglobin protein (for humans and most vertebrates) contains four iron atoms, so the concentration of iron in human blood is 27.32 to 45.2 mmol/L. Iron has a molar weight of 55.845g/mol, meaning that 1g of iron is 17.9mmol. At the highest iron concentration of 45.2mmol/L, that gives us about 2.5g of iron per liter of human (or equivalent animal) blood, or 400 liters of blood per 1kg of iron.

        Keep in mind that this is the absolute best case scenario, unless you can find a source of blood that contains a lot more hemoglobin than human blood does. We’re assuming the highest concentrations of hemoglobin (we’d probably get varying concentrations in reality) and a 100% extraction rate (without a procedure to work with I couldn’t begin to guess what the actual rate would be, but you never get 100%), and we’re still going through 400 liters of blood for every kilogram of iron. Assuming that “iron that breathed” would even work for druidic purposes, it would remain very expensive.

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        • N'ville says:

          I actually beg to differ regarding the cost, at least in our terms, apart from the Fe, there will also be C, H, and O. Mostly as H2O, OK in the real red stuff there will also be many other trace elements, but mainly as minority traces and little to worry about. So, to extract the Fe, all you should need is a reasonable amount of energy in the form of heat, moderate at first as the H2O will evaporate, then step the temperature up a bit to turn the organic stuff back to C, apart from the previously mentioned other elements, you should then have plain old ferrous oxide mixed with carbon, so step up the heat a bit more to remove the the oxygen from the oxide and you will get cast iron, probably high carbon cast iron, but once in a liquid form, er, remember that oxygen? a guy called Bessemer knew how to remove the carbon to get it down to soft iron, that could then be where some of those trace elements just might make it some odd EN numbered steel. OK a bit basic chemistry I know, I am an engineer, not a chemist, but fun to think about it.

          Current score: 0
          • Argyle says:

            No hemoglobin but maybe a Hemogoblin?
            1/2 goblin 1/2 demon?

            Sorry caught up in Mac’s bad jokes.

            Current score: 1
          • Marx says:

            …and now I can’t stop thinking about some weird dystopia in which human bodies are processed to produce weaponry and ammunition. great. thanks a lot 😛

            Would be an interesting read, though. And reminds me of the Warhammer 40k Universe.

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            • Zergonapal says:

              Well life is cheap there, but the amount of energy would not be worth the effort unless you where in a plane of existence where energy was abundant and metal was rare. But then life there would be very different, though perhaps the entities would want to harvest the humans for their metal content, except if they could access our dimension why wouldn’t they just stop by the local scrap dealer?

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            • fka_luddite says:

              Johnathan Swift

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            • helen rees says:

              your modesty is noted

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          • fka_luddite says:

            Third Law of Thermodynamics

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    • pedestrian says:

      Speaking of the MUniverse Sun, I was just wondering are there sunspots or coronal loops or mass ejections or solar flares?

      And if so, would Our Mack be able to see those phenomena?

      As for over-thinking a subject, I’m a practitioner of the school that every idea should be ruthlessly flogged.

      If not, if the MU Sun is Divine construct or of an elemental nature, would it be habitable?

      Current score: 0
      • erianaiel says:

        I think Mackenzie accidentally just settled a aeons old question whether the sun is a natural object or the embodiment of a divine being. Or at least regarding the light part of it.
        So … no divine being carting the celestial light around the sky in a chariot drawn by magical creatures.
        There still may be a sun god, but he or she is not the sun, nor is he or she in the sun in a more literal sense, apparently. Or Mackenzie would be hurt by the magical or divine light, and staring in the sun would do as much permanent damage to her eyes as it would a fully human being.

        Current score: 1
        • Luke Licens says:

          It’s probably best for her not to share that information, though. A half demon spouting heresy is a recipe for all manner of trouble.

          Then again, the fact that neither demons nor half demons burst into flame or shrivel into dust under direct sunlight probably tipped the church off to that long ago, so they’ve had plenty of time to propagandize against it.

          Current score: 0
          • pedestrian says:

            Luke and erianaiel

            You are both correct, I should have realized that of course divine energy would be destructive to Mack and affiliates.

            If Our Sun is divine could that explain why vampires and other things that go bump in the night are destroyed by sunlight?

            So, is the Muniverse Sun a big ball of plasmid energy or elemental? Or is it a spotlight directed at the MU Earth? Does the Moon cause tidal forces and are there Solar tides in addition? In other words, are gravitational forces in effect here?

            Somewhere on MU Earth, is there an apple waiting to drop on some napping mathematician’s head?

            Current score: 1
            • Tamina says:

              I love the reference to the clouds pooling at the top of the dome of the world – I’d like to know if people have actually ventured out/looked at the stars or if the MUniverse is actually a snow-globe. If the latter, I imagine you’d need some kind of god/dess manually rolling the tides.

              Current score: 0
            • MackSffrs says:

              Dee mentioned look out at the darkness of the sky and not being able to see both stars and darkness, just stars and emptiness. There are more than enough hints to say that the MU universe is shaped or at least contained in physics.

              Current score: 0
            • Zergonapal says:

              Maybe its neither and just an open portal to the plane of fire.

              Current score: 0
  2. Allan says:

    Cool ideas, once again interestingly explained. Loved it.

    Current score: 0
  3. Zathras IX says:

    Every day is
    Potentially a brand
    New sort of normal

    Current score: 1
  4. corinthian says:

    Very interesting chapter. Kudos once again!

    Current score: 0
  5. Billy Bob says:

    I’m looking forward to some action of some sort. Even fighting in class would be welcome.

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  6. pedestrian says:

    hellaphant……referencing Pooh, LTR and hellspawn in the same breath!

    yeah! another new wordicuss terrificuss from the flying fingers of Alexandra.

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    • Ducky says:

      Heffalumps were in Winnie the Pooh. Heffalumps and Woozels.

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      • Brenda says:

        Not to mention the occasional Jagular… or was that just in the cartoon show?

        Current score: 0
  7. Dave says:

    Damn it, you had me looking up heirophant, and now I’ve downloaded Eunapius’s ‘Lives of the Sophists’ to read, when I have far more important things to do that read something written 2400 years ago just because I’d not heard of it before.

    And I haven’t even read this chapter properly yet. But I will, when I get the time 🙂

    Current score: 0
  8. Maahes0 says:

    So I’m seeing a potential conflict during camping trips. I really hope there are no virgin humans on her trip. Especially if she’s toying with enhanced smell to smell the flowers. Everyone gets a cut or a scrape when camping. If she can see a flash of light in a distant window and KNOW it’s a human. What about a single drop of virgin blood?

    Current score: 0
    • Luke Licens says:

      Early snack to keep the hunger at bay?

      “Hey there, pretty lady. I see you’ve nicked your finger. Let me help you with that…”

      Amaranth would approve.

      Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        If she had the option, it would probably be good to just take a dose of blood every week to keep things safe.

        Current score: 0
      • Dave says:

        Yes, it does worry me a bit that she hasn’t had any virgin blood for a while, considering what happened last time she got ‘overdue’. Or does she now have a safe source provided by the University?

        Current score: 0
  9. Greenwood Goat says:

    “Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun,
    ‘Cos mama, that’s where the fun is.”

    Blinded by the Light Bruce Springsteen

    The ability to tell when someone is staring at you is pretty common, even among humans, just not commonly acknowledged. Mack might find that she’s able to do it too, now that she’s working on her perceptions. And, I suppose, she could be one with the ability to bore back, and not in a “You’ve never heard of Mecknights?!” kind of way. >:=D>

    Yes, I’m really looking forward to Mack’s camping trips. She and Eloise have an interesting dynamic developing, and they could get up to all sorts of interesting things in the woods… botany, perhaps, or bird identification, or ghoul extermination, or metaphor-magic to augment physical senses – Eloise might be able to talk Mack through it, even coming from a different school of magic, and Mack would definitely look cooler with eagle eyes.

    …Although, thinking about it, there isn’t anyone out there that wouldn’t look cooler with eagle eyes. >;=)>

    Current score: 0
    • Mirthstrike says:

      It’s pretty common for people to *think* they’re able to tell when someone’s looking at them, but nobody’s been able to reliably do so better than guessing.

      Current score: 0
      • Rin says:

        Actually that depends a little bit. If you’re talking about people staring at you from behind or to the side but outside your peripheral vision, there really isn’t any way for us to tell.

        However, the human brain is highly attuned to picking up other humans and especially human faces and can usually, consciously or subconsciously, spot eyes locked on you as long as those eyes are anywhere within your roughly 180 degree field of view and within a reasonable distance.

        Current score: 0
  10. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    Dee would have better eyesight, but bright light strained her eyes and She would probably be able to pick out its individual feathers, to see the weird scaly pattern on its feet.

    When did Dee become a deity? That’s usually the only time we capitalize a pronoun mid-sentence. I think this is an instance of two sentences colliding with one another, with the end of the first sentence getting lost in the process. Either that or Mackenzie knows something about Dee that she’s not admitting to herself.

    The longer I looked at it, the more sure I was looking at a human.

    I think this needs a few more words in that latter half of the sentence. Something more along the lines of “the more sure I was that I was looking at a human.”

    Current score: 0
    • N'ville says:

      Or, “The more sure I became that I was looking at a human”

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  11. Brenda says:

    Nothing can be kind of hard for the mind to process.

    I love this line.

    Current score: 1
  12. Erm says:

    “Forest walked… you know, step in through a tree, step out through another. It’s a druid thing.”

    woah.

    Current score: 0
  13. Erm says:

    “Yeah, I guess I’m trying out all kinds of new ways of looking,”

    … ow …

    Current score: 0
  14. Seth says:

    What’s impressive to me is that she’s made a quantum leap from enhancing the qualities of objects to her advantage, to temporarily enhancing properties of herself. I’m curious if this new perception is something she can use in her combat class. I’d also like to know if this general ability extends to other demonic properties – strength, invulnerability, speed, reflexes, fire?

    If so, and she can learn to use her energy pool as second nature, then this would make her considerably more dangerous than any of Mercys’ pets.

    Current score: 0
  15. Maahes0 says:

    Hehe “quantum leap”…
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2628#comic

    Current score: 0
    • Meh. I wasn’t really impressed with that comic at the time it ran because I think Weiner has a fundamental misunderstanding of how the term is used metaphorically.

      People aren’t using it to mean a great big huge change, they’re using it to mean changing all at once from one thing to another… which is what a quantum leap is.

      Quanta are the smallest divisible units of something. When something travels a million miles, first it travels one mile. Except before that it travels half a mile. Before that it travels a quarter of a mile. And so on. That’s a non-quantum leap. It’s not a leap at all. It’s a progression, a journey.

      When something goes up or down one between two quanta… that’s it. All at once. It’s dramatic not because of its size but because of its nature.

      You see?

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        Similar in concept to phasing. H2O, does not change it’s elemental structure as it phases from liquid to ice to steam. But you would certainly notice a difference in your comfort level immersing yourself in a bathtub of ice or steam.

        Current score: 0