In Which Mackenzie Fights A Mock Phony


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“This is not going to work,” Coach Callahan said. She pointed at the glowing duplicates. “You and you, come here.”

They did… both a little hesitantly, which I supposed was the only smart way to approach her when you knew your “life” was completely expendable. Her sword was on her back and her hands were crossed in front of her chest… and then the sword arced through the air. I didn’t have time to even register the sight of my blue duplicate’s head leaving her shoulders before she became an afterimage.

“Match, Tiger,” Coach Callahan said, which somehow made the whole thing even more surreal… the mockbox system usually made the idea of her declaring a victor pointless. “Tiny, box yourself, then pick someone else to fight her dupe while yours fights hers. Keep rotating people through, king-of-the-hill style. Losers go to the back of the line, but never have the same two people fighting on both side. Skip someone if you need to, to avoid it. Got it?”

“Yes, I think so,” Pala said.

And just like that, I was exiled to the edge of the mats, last in line to fight again. Coach Callahan went to rejoin the main section. I wondered if she had an assistant handling them, since she’d been with us at the start of the class. I also wondered if it would occur to her to split the boxes between our groups… it would mean nobody would be fighting at the same time as their own dupe, which would have to be an interesting experience.

Even without my own near-doppelganger in the mix anymore, watching the succession of bouts on both sides was interesting in and of itself. I couldn’t imagine the view the others must have had of our fights, as this seemed eerie enough. I watched a glowing blue Pala tear smash her way through Nae, a dwarf who seemed to go by “Brick”… or at least, who was called that by the coach… and then be taken down by one of her fellow gladiators, an elf with an affectation for the post-morbid named Asphodelos.

I’d actually seen him fighting in the arena before. On that occasion, he’d spent his time playing around with a magical cape… Steff had been of the opinion that he would have been able to win easily if he would have quit fucking around with it and just went in for the kill. Nothing about him had been very impressive that night, least of all his misunderstood-creature-of-the-night routine, but it seemed Steff’s analysis had been spot on.

I’d been focusing on watching Mirror-Pala’s fights because she’d been winning them up until that point, and I’d kind of expected her to keep on doing so. It was deeply disconcerting to watch the duplicates disappearing into nothingness the instant they were defeated.

“Fire-demon-burning-baby!” the real Pala called, slapping me on the shoulder… a gesture which knocked me to my knees. “Sorry,” she said. “I am not as good at remembering nicknames.”

“You could have just said ‘Mackenzie’,” I said.

“I didn’t remember that, either,” she said. “Anyway, you’re next in the box… your dupe against him!”

“Give me a second,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I would have preferred to make it back the box or to the mat first, but at least I wouldn’t be fighting Asphodelos myself… and maybe I’d learn something, if I had a chance to watch him fighting my dupe before I got called to the other side, where his duplicate was still also reigning supreme.

“Okie dokie,” she said. “Meli… Meb… Blondie-Girl-With-Sticks, you’re in the box! Oh, that’s another one out. Mack, you can fight Delos’s double.”

So much for learning from watching…

I hadn’t expected to be facing any of Coach Callahan’s gladiators anytime soon. Before she’d unveiled her new toys, she had told us we’d be pairing off against individual opponents for a week at a time, and though we’d had our week, Nae and I hadn’t exactly been done with each other. I supposed that she hadn’t been given a timetable for exactly when they would be finished, and this was her idea of a stress test… we had already uncovered one potential issue, with the identical-fighters-fighting-identically thing.

I felt justified in taking my time to get into position, since I’d just been clobbered by a non-phantasmal storm giant. She could no more harm my semi-invulnerable body with her physical muscles than an illusionary weapon could actually harm her, but it still hurt. Before I even got up off the mat, I took a few seconds to center myself, something I hadn’t done at all before stepping onto the mat with my first opponent. That had been a mistake. I’d been making a lot of progress in grounding myself, focusing myself, opening up my mental and physical senses and using all of them together… but then the weekend had happened.

With the weekend, I’d gone from spending every day in class and ending up in the salle with Nae to fucking around in the rain and complaining and bondage games and dream-meetings, and I’d lost my focus.

Now I was going to fight an opponent I’d never faced before, someone with elven reflexes and a lot more experience than me. I wasn’t resigned to losing, but I wasn’t hoping to win so much as I was hoping not to go down too quickly.

And who knew? He wasn’t messing around, but he was still more about style than substance. He’d been scything through opponents pretty quickly… if a fight didn’t go the way he wanted it to, he might stumble.

I opened up my senses to the elements, whipped up a few minor defensive measures, and then took my place.

With two fights starting and stopping at irregular intervals, the combatants had been initiating their own bouts, so I squared off against the mocked Asphodelos, took a defensive stance, and said, “Ready?”

“The night calls,” he said. The red-tinged aura of mockery around him was actually more effective than the glamour he wore in the arena, but only just barely.

“I don’t know what that means.” I said. “Are you ready or not?”

“I hunger for conflict.”

“Ready: yes, no?”

I was glad I’d put out some air-feelers, because he answered by leaping at me with a hiss… I suppose, to be fair, in his mind he had told me that he was ready. The hiss was pure theatrics, the leap wasn’t. It might have been more effective for him to keep his feet on the ground… there was magic in an elf’s stride, but not so much in an elf’s jump. As sudden surprise charges went, though, it was still pretty effective.

A human probably would have been spattered down the middle by the swing I tried to meet him with, but he possessed enough agility to twist around in the air and not only avoid it, but still catch my arm with the tip of one of his claw-like hand blades before I could knock him away with a blast of air. He landed on his feet, unsurprisingly.

“I sense there is something of the beast in you,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “You heard Pala calling me demon-something, so if you didn’t already know who I was before then, that probably would have been a big clue.”

“There is fire in you.”

“Yes, more things we both already know,” I said. “You saw me using it in my first bout. In stereo, even. If you had some kind of tinted filters, you could have watched it in 3-D.”

“Such spirit is a rare gift in a creature without a soul.”

Creature?” I repeated, too miffed to even acknowledge the crack about my soul. It might not have been the best example of its kind, but I was pretty sure I had one.

“I mean no offense,” he said, giving a soft, douchy chuckle. “We are kindred.”

“No, you’re an elf and I’m half-demon,” I said. “Even if you were undead, that wouldn’t make you a demon, or related to demons, and if you were one, you would probably know that. I thought the coach threw you guys into our class so we could learn how to fight in ways other students at are level couldn’t. What are you supposed to be teaching me? Drama? Banter? You’re doing worse at that than you are at fighting.”

In retrospect, if I’d been trying to provoke him in order to get him angry and force him to make a sloppy mistake, I probably couldn’t have come up with a better way of doing so than the one that I hit upon purely by mistake.

If that had been my plan, the flaw in it would have been that a superior fighter who gets angry is still a superior fighter. There’s such a thing as sloppiness and tactical errors and all that, but there’s no actual absolute, inviolable rule of the universe that says that the one who gets angry automatically makes one of those and immediately loses the fight.

The good news was that he also didn’t immediately win. I couldn’t give an exact accounting of everything that happened in the flurry of blows that we exchanged before I forced him back again, but it left me bleeding from multiple illusionary wounds on my upper body and him with one of his arms hanging limply at his side where I’d cracked him a good one.

“This is nothing,” he said. “Your blood will give me the strength to heal this.”

“That is not even how that works,” I said. “They have pamphlets in the healing center on this. Did you do any research?”

“You know nothing of my hunger.”

It was probably a testament to how frustrated and angry I was that I almost pointed out that there was one person in the room who hungered for human blood and it wasn’t him, but that wasn’t the sort of thing I liked to advertise.

Well, I actually did advertise for human blood… that was the only way to get a regular supply of virgin blood on a monthly schedule. But there was putting a discreet notice up on the ethereal bulletin board and there was shouting it in a crowded room, and there was a little difference between them.

But that moment of restraint was enough to realize that yes, I was fighting angry, and I was fighting unfocused. With one arm down, my opponent seemed to be waiting for me to make the next move… as a naturally ambidextrous fighter, he probably wasn’t used to having a bad side. In fact, that night in the arena he hadn’t been fighting with paired weapons because he’d had one hand full with his cape. That might have been one of the reasons he’d sucked so badly.

If he wanted to fight defensively for a while, I’d make him come to me instead.

I cast a ring of flame around myself. Just a small one… little cool flames a few inches high. Sustaining a bigger fire out of thin air would have been difficult, anyway.

“Dare you cross perdition’s flame?” I asked him. I had no idea what it was even supposed to mean, but it was a dare and I thought that even if it meant nothing to him, he would still feel the need to play along.

Dare he did. Snarling more like an angry toddler than a vengeful creature of the night, he stalked forward, leading with his good arm like a fencer… but he wasn’t holding a rapier or anything similar, so he was basically sheltering himself with nothing but his last good arm. The second part of my plan snapped into place as I watched him coming forward with single-minded determination. I realized he was going to wait until he’d crossed the line before he engaged with me, because he clearly expected me to do the same.

And I had planned on that, because the whole point had been to get him in close… but then I remembered what class I was in. He hadn’t been there for Coach Callahan’s speech on the first day. We were in the land of Whatever Works and Do What You Have To Do.

The moment his foot was over the tiny wall of flame, I poured energy into it while swinging my staff like a greatsword at the arm he threw up reflexively to shield himself from a burst of fire that admittedly was more a flash than a towering inferno… but I hadn’t been counting on it to do the real harm. I’d stopped concentrating on it even before my staff made contact, and without any fuel or energy it disappeared pretty quickly.

So did my opponent, when I was able to give him a couple of good shots to his head. Even with one arm probably dislocated and the other definitely broken, he’d been mobile enough to make it hard to get a clean one in… but they didn’t have to be clean.

My illusionary wounds vanished along with their inflictor. I was unharmed, pumped up, and still more than a little pissed.

“Frybaby, a word!” the coach called from the sidelines.

I restrained the urge to shout, “What?” not trusting how it would come out. Instead I walked over and waited for her to say whatever it was she had to say.

“You took your time with that one,” she said.

“And I won,” I said. “Isn’t it better to take your time and win then to rush to your death?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Just so long as you can recognize when you can actually afford to dick around with someone like that and when you can’t. I wanted to talk to you about that call I made. You know why I did it, right?”

“Because identical fights were creepy and an inefficient us of time?” I said.

“I meant, why I gave the match to Nae,” she said. To my recollection, it was the first time she’d used her real name.

“I honestly hadn’t given it any thought,” I said. I hadn’t lost, not by the rules of the engagement, but I’d been in the process of losing… I’d been downed, possibly would have been flat on my back if I hadn’t run into something, and Nae’s size and fighting style would have made it easy enough for her to finish me off before I could have recovered.

I might not have lost… I might have been able to turn things around on her, and I definitely would have tried… but if you could have frozen the fight at that moment as a tableau and given people a chance to title it, “Triumph of the Tiny Kobold” might have been a good name.

“She was pissed about the fight being called last week,” the coach said. “I normally wouldn’t bother to declare a winner… especially when it was clear how it was going… but it might have been the last straw for her. I just don’t want you getting fed up over it, either.”

“Why do you care?” I asked, trying not to sound dismissive. I was surprised. “It’s not like you to care about your students’ feelings.”

“I care about feelings and shit,” she said. “Anger’s important. Sometimes it’s useful. Sometimes it’s not. If someone has a hard time letting their anger out, I’ll try to make them do it. Tiger doesn’t have that problem. She’s got a lot of anger packed deep in there and not a lot of places she can let it out. She’ll learn how to control it in time… or she won’t, and it will eventually kill her in a real fight someday… but in the meantime, a little management goes a long way.”

“Like how you managed me, my first year.”

“Praise Khersis, she can be taught,” she said. “And I know you’re motivated more by your grades than by the thought that anything you’re learning here is necessary, valuable, or good… and while if I had to argue with you to convince you to try, I wouldn’t bother, as long as you are motivating yourself anyway, I don’t want to be the one who gets in the way of it. That’s why I’m making it clear, the mirror match was my fuck-up. I didn’t see it coming. Nae wins because she needs to win to keep her motivation, but you don’t lose.”

“Thank you for clarifying,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“And she says thank you! Now we’re going to have to put the whole box project on hold while the eggheads figure out what it did to your brain.”

“It’s not the box, it’s Amaranth,” I said. It might have been a little juvenile to interject that during my moment of apparent maturity, but she had been derisive of Amaranth’s influence on me before.

“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” she said.


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49 Responses to “Chapter 144: Death and Douchebaggery”

  1. Burnsidhe says:

    Mack is learning fast, now that she’s not needing to hold back. And playing on the guy’s affectations was clever.

    Current score: 1
    • Dani says:

      And he won’t learn from the experience, because it happened to someone else.

      Current score: 0
  2. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    “Dare you cross perdition’s flame?” I asked him.’

    *laughs until she can’t breathe*

    Current score: 3
    • Readaholic says:

      Clearly, roleplaying is more important than his grades to him. That’s probably why he’s mucking around with the humans. If he fought with elves, he’d have to use stuff that works, rather than stuff that matches his internal coolometer.

      Current score: 3
      • hoppy says:

        If fought with elves like it would socially damage him allot more than screwing around outside elven society. I mean most humans or other races aren’t going to be around by the time he is considered an adult. His reaction might be funny if someone pointed out that Mack, Pala and Callahan could actually be around at that time.

        Current score: 2
  3. Julian Morrison says:

    If I was the illusionary duplicate, I’d have attacked Callahan. Because why not?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      See I just have to ask: Do they understand what they are? I mean, if I realized I was fake, you better believe I wouldn’t go down without a fight. But what level of self awareness do they have? They do not seem as if they care about annihilation, yet they act exactly like the original in every other way.

      Current score: 0
      • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

        I imagine that removing existential doubt may have been added as part of the enchantment during the early stages.

        Current score: 0
      • TheTurnipKing says:

        They still think of themselves as students and Callahan is the teacher. So obliteration by coach probably didn’t seem like a “thing”.

        Current score: 0
      • hoppy says:

        This why I doubted the whole mocking of people. Then again you could link the Mockeries sense of self to the orignal that would work although… Aaah there are just so many things wrong with this… it shouldn’t even work… it’s breaking my brain… it should break the world… even if does work it should be so complicated as to be impossible. That’s about my thought process plus allot of recursive and dead end thoughts.

        Current score: 0
        • Ephemeral says:

          There’s no reason it wouldn’t work. It’s just morally horrific.

          Current score: 0
    • Ganryu says:

      Hmmm, that brings up an interesting idea. Can prolonged exposure to these new boxes result in increased risky behavior in the original person using them?

      Current score: 0
      • TheTurnipKing says:

        Theoretically not, because the dupes experience is apparently entirely seperate from the original.

        Current score: 0
        • William Carr says:

          It would be more effective if the moment the duplicate vanished the memories were downloaded back to the original. And it would solve the “hell, why should I fight then ?” problem.

          Current score: 0
          • Oni says:

            That would probably be a very bad thing. You’re talking about having two sets of memories for a particular period of time. MAYBE a human (or near-human psyche) could be expected to survive a half-dozen or so brief instances of this, but I think retro-grade memory integration like this would result in post-traumatic stress syndrome at best (especially since each of these memory-dumps could be expected to include the individual’s violent death) and would more likely cause symptoms akin to schizophrenia or such. It’s such an alien concept that I think it’s pretty much written on the tin “will cause unpredictable mental trauma”.

            Current score: 0
            • That one guy says:

              Nah, it’d be just like normal life. You’d just remember bits and pieces of everything. Kind of like that messy mind-room with the forgotten box of pizza in it? There’d just be more messy stuff and a second box of pizza in it. After a while you’d just get used to double fisting pizza into your mouth from two different boxes at the same time.

              Current score: 0
            • Oni says:

              “Btuhta tw’hsagtr ehaatp,pbeuntsw hwehneyno uytoaul kt,rhyo wtdoo yhoauvkee etpwuop wciotnhvietr?sations?”

              Case in point.

              Current score: 0
  4. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    Whoops, typo report

    “I thought the coach threw you guys into our class so we could learn how to fight in ways other students at are level couldn’t.”

    Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      Also, “the same two people fighting on both side.” should be “sides.”

      Current score: 0
  5. x says:

    Typo:
    “Tiny, box yourself, then pick someone else to fight her dupe while yours fights hers.” – “hers” should be “her”? Now “hers” sounds like it would mean the same as “her dupe”, but both fights shouldn’t have the same dupe.

    Current score: 0
    • Bolongo says:

      It should probably be “while your dupe fights her.” Or not. Assuming the first “her dupe” refers to Nae’s., but it might not. …I’m just horribly confused now.

      Current score: 0
      • Anvildude says:

        Should actually probably be “while your dupe fights their’s”- unless the entire class is female, or Callahan is specifically wanting Pala to start off against a female student.

        Current score: 0
  6. pedestrian says:

    Frybaby takes a deeply personal interest in Amy’s ‘box’.

    “To-may-to, to-mah-to,” “can’t, cant.” “would, wood.”

    The programmers who code spellcheck are homophone-phobic.

    Current score: 0
  7. YayGasm says:

    No, that doesn’t make sense:
    “Tiny, box yourself, then pick someone else to fight her dupe while yours fights hers. Keep rotating people through, king-of-the-hill style. Losers go to the back of the line, but never have the same two people fighting on both side. Skip someone if you need to, to avoid it. Got it?”

    I interpret that as:
    Pala box’s. Picks A. A fight Pala’s Mock. Pala fights A’s Mock.
    Which was the problem.

    It needs more words.
    “Tiny, box yourself, then pick someone to fight your dupe, have her mock herself and have her dupe fight someone else.”
    But that is wordy.

    Current score: 0
    • Zergonapal says:

      I agree I think it could use a bit a of rewording and clarification, but its not a big deal, the chapter is still an enjoyable read.

      Current score: 0
      • Lunaroki says:

        I think part of the confusion comes from not knowing whether Nae and/or her dupe are still in. Mack’s dupe was eliminated and Mack removed, but nothing I saw told me whether or not Nae and her dupe remained.

        Current score: 0
        • Jaysan says:

          After rereading it, that’s how I interpreted it. Mack’s dupe was deduped, but Nae’s was still active.

          That sentence makes sense if “hers” was changed to “her”, and if you realize that the only “her” referred to in that paragraph is Nae.

          E.g. Someone else fights Nae’s dupe, while Pala’s dupe fights Nae herself. This is supported by the dupe going through Nae and “Brick” before being brought down by the “dark” elf.

          Current score: 0
          • Ducky says:

            Oh, God, now I want to see Dee meet Delos and give him a beatdown.

            Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I interpreted it as having the mocks fight each other. . . Actually it sounds like Pala’s mock will be fighting Nae’s mock along with some other student.

      Regardless, it sounds wrong strange.

      Current score: 0
      • Erm says:

        That’s what it seems to say, but there would be little point in having copies fight each other, since the originals are supposed to be getting the combat experience.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          Exactly.

          If only the memories of the mock could be given to the real person when it expired? That would be freaky.

          Current score: 0
  8. Erm says:

    They did… both a little hesitantly, which I supposed was the only smart way to approach her when you knew your “life” was completely expendable. Her sword was on her back and her hands were crossed in front of her chest… and then the sword arced through the air. I didn’t have time to even register the sight of my blue duplicate’s head leaving her shoulders before she became an afterimage.

    I have no idea what to make of that, philosophically speaking. Did Callahan “kill” a copy of Mackenzie, or merely “dispel” an illusion of her?

    (Also, how long until Mack will be fighting* her own duplicate? Because that totally needs to happen.)

    ((*… or making out with it, whichever comes first.))

    Current score: 0
    • Not her the other girl says:

      And how long would Mackenzie spend standing around staring at herself either being weirded out by the idea of making out with herself and/or picking apart the technical side of the magic before she actually did anything.

      Current score: 0
    • Erm says:

      Yeah, let me amend that:

      (((*… or getting distracted from the fight and having an hourlong discussion about enchantment mechanics and Mecknights with herself)))

      Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        If their thoughts are identical, what’s to discuss?

        Current score: 0
        • HiEv says:

          You’re telling me that you never talk to yourself? ;-P

          Current score: 0
    • That one guy says:

      Let me explain. No, there’s too much to explain. Let me sum up. Callahan dealt enough damage to the mock, or some damage in the right way, to kill the mock, which thus dispelled it. So, if the question is whether Callahan killed the mock of dispelled it, the answer is yes.

      Current score: 0
  9. Alex says:

    Typo

    “inefficient us of time?”
    should be
    “inefficient use of time?”

    As for her doppleganger attacking the coach, she likely didn’t have time to react. She wasn’t warned to be on guard and the coach is an awesomely effective fighter.

    Current score: 0
  10. Zathras IX says:

    These days too many
    Folks have an affectation
    For the post-morbid

    Current score: 0
  11. Author_Unknown says:

    Typo
    I watched a glowing blue Pala tear smash her way through Nae,

    Current score: 0
  12. Shouldn't read before coffee says:

    The subtitle – FPA: “… Fights a Mock Pony”

    Current score: 0
  13. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    ““Okie dokie,” she said. “Meli… Meb… Blondie-Girl-With-Sticks, you’re in the box! Oh, that’s another one out. Mack, you can fight Delos’s double.””

    I am still really confused by what happened here. Both Delos and Delos’s doubles were fighting different people. Pala originally put Mack’s double up against the real Delos, then said that the blonde girl with the sticks was also in the box? Who was her duplicate going to fight? And then who was the “another one out” who changed it from Mack’s double fighting the real Delos to the real Mack fighting Delos’s double?

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      It doesn’t matter ‘who’ was another one out. Pala was keeping an eye on the whole arena, remember, and keeping track of who was up next and who had to go back to the end of the queue. This was an example of Pala thinking out loud.

      Current score: 0
      • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

        Yeah, but there were only two matches going on at once, right? So if Mack’s double was going up against Delos, why would Blonde-Girl-With-Sticks be going in the box? The only other one left was presumably Delos’s double, and there’s no point in two doubles fighting each other. And then something changed in one of the matches abruptly to make Mack go against Delos’s double vs. Mack’s double against Delos. IDK, I’m having trouble following the chain of events.

        Current score: 0
        • Stonefoot says:

          Pala was going to send Mack’s double against Delos, but Mack asked for some time to recover, so Pala sent ‘blondie-girl-with-sticks’ to the mock box instead (so then her double fought Delos). Then Delos’ double won his fight and Pala sent Mack to fight Delos’ double.

          It could be that all those years Mack spent staying in the background and watching other people interact, instead of actually participating, are paying off. She understood the game Delos was playing because she had watched others do the same.

          Current score: 0
          • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

            Aha! That’s what I was missing. Thanks.

            Current score: 0
  14. Seajewel says:

    “Fire-demon-burning-baby!” the real Pala called, slapping me on the shoulder…

    Bwahahaha

    Current score: 0
  15. Ryzndmon says:

    I’m still waiting for Our Mack’s extra credit. Arena fighting.

    Current score: 0