In Which Mackenzie Expands Her Horizons

Imagine there’s a building… a big, tall building of solid brick construction… visible in the distance across an open plain.

From this distance, it looks small… so small that if you put your hand out alongside it, it seems about the same size. You could cover it with your hand. From the vantage point of someone standing behind you, your head could be blocking it. If they slid to the side a little, they could see the building just fine, but if you moved a bit to side or they did, it would almost look like the building could slip inside your head.

I’m not sure what angle they’d be at where your head specifically would be blocking the building, but that’s not really material. The point is, from a distance and at the right angle, this really big brick building would look like it would fit inside your head.

Now imagine that the three-dimensional world suddenly contracted in such a way that there is no distance… that this building that seemed so tiny in the now non-existent distance is suddenly coexisting within the same space as your head.

Can you imagine what that would be like? Probably not, because it isn’t something I could have imagined before I experienced it… because that’s exactly what my first attempt to get to know Gilcrease Tower felt like.

The beginning was fairly promising. The building was, after all, a physical object, solid and sturdy. That’s not an essential property for this kind of enchantment work, but it does make it easier to approach it. It’s usually best to start by getting to grips with the strongest and most obvious properties of a thing… now, I’ve always tended to think of dealing with the energy of objects in hands-on terms, like grabbing hold of a property or clutching at it or yanking on it, because that’s a useful way to think of it. It’s nice and active.

Another way to describe the same process, though, would be “wrapping your head around it”, and I couldn’t dispute the accuracy of that description after I found my head wrapped around a hundred feet of brick residence hall. The moment of connection happened just like I would have expected it to… if anything, it was easier than I would have guessed… and then for an instant, I could feel the whole of the building both within and around me… and then in another instant, I was suddenly aware how large it was, and this awareness seemed to explode out of me, out through the top of my skull and down through the bottoms of my feet.

Then it was gone. I couldn’t hold it any longer than that if I’d wanted to.

I ended up on my back, but I probably only imagined my head hitting the ceiling as part of the whole onrush of sensation… I was pretty sure that was the case, if only because I couldn’t imagine having hit it as hard as it had felt like without leaving a dent.

I did a careful assessment before I tried to move. Physical feedback seemed unlikely, but magic bypassed my invulnerability so it could potentially have been really bad. The fact that I apparently hadn’t died mean I was probably okay, physically speaking, since I couldn’t imagine a mere bruise or even a broken bone from a kick like that. But this was new territory for me, and I wanted to be sure, so I waited for the ringing sensation in my head to clear a little bit and tried to see if I had any pain.

Other than a headache and a small amount from when one of my elbows must have hit the floor, there didn’t seem to be any. I did have a distinct lingering impression of lines across my face, like the pattern of cracks between bricks on the side of the building, but when I touched it, there was nothing. I still had to check in the bathroom mirror a few times to be sure… every time I looked, I felt a bit less like masonry, so there was probably no lasting mental damage, either.

That didn’t mean I’d asked unscathed. There might not have been physical feedback, but “magical feedback” was pretty much the definition of what had happened and I had no way of guessing the effects. It might have ripped a lot of energy from me, or damaged… hopefully temporarily… my ability to interact with magical energy or the properties of objects around me.

I tested for that possibility carefully, using small, simple, non-magical items around the room. I did feel a little drained, but I didn’t find any signs of damage to my abilities. I kept testing, tentatively at first and then with more confidence when there was no pain or side-effects. I wanted to be damned sure everything was in working order before I even thought about trying again.

Not that I would try again, in the sense of doing the same thing over and hoping it went better the second time. I hadn’t even been trying to take the measure of the building, much less enhance or alter it in any way, but even bare contact had been too much. This was not something that I would be able to handle better now that I knew it was coming. I had, in a very mundane way, apparently attempted something of a fairly epic scale.

Professor Stone was definitely an artisan on top of being an experienced enchanter, but I doubted that he had the raw willpower or magical energy to handle what I’d attempted. His dwarven heritage possibly gave him some advantages in terms of helping him relate to architectural structures incorporating metal and stone and possibly absorbing the shock, but I doubted it would make enough difference.

So this told me that his approach must be slightly different. Of course, he did have a ring to help him, but that could only do so much. The kind of extra “oomph” such a magic item could give would also not be enough to cope with the forces in even an only incidental magical, non-sentient building. What could an ordinary magical ring do to insulate its wearer from the punishing impact that would no doubt come from contact with Emily? I could imagine such a device could exist, but only as an ancient artifact of great power or a creation that was somehow the equal of Emily. Professor Stone’s ring was of modern construction, being of his own devising… if he had figured out how to “awaken” it he probably would have been proud of this fact, so it was probably as mindless as any inanimate object.

…and that was probably it. I’d had no problem making contact with Gilcrease Tower using the simplest enchantment techniques, but my mind had been overwhelmed by the experience. If I had no mind… or if I had a mindless magic item that opened up a connection to an object and then fed me information about its properties, there would be no direct contact.

That was almost definitely it. Professor Stone was a far better enchanter than I was. Why would he have indicated that his enchanter’s ring was so integral to the process if all it was doing was enhancing his techniques or doing some of the heavy lifting? It must work as an intermediary.

I didn’t have anything like an enchanter’s ring, and I could hardly ask to borrow Professor’ Stone… that kind of item was really personal, and would probably not work half as well for me if I could even figure out how he activated it. But sooner or later, every new enchanter made something like that. The first attempt probably wouldn’t be very pretty, and with the limited amount of techniques I knew how to employ it probably wouldn’t even be more efficient than doing things by hand, but I didn’t need something that would hold up for day-to-day use, I just needed something that could act as a bridge.

The question was, could I even pull that off?

My strongest enchantment technique was enhancement. If I had an object that had the property of being able to interface with other objects and read or interact with their properties, I wouldn’t need to do anything else. Most of my experience in the area of crafting spells was in the area of elementalism, and that didn’t seem very useful in this situation. I would get more benefit out of the few weeks of spellbinding experience I had than anything else, and I wasn’t sure that I knew enough there.

On the other hand, though, just because I’d never bothered to apply much spellcraft to my basic enchantment techniques didn’t mean that I couldn’t manage it. All I really needed to do was take what I did when I approached an object as an enchanter, turn it into a spell, and then package that in an item, the same way I put charges in a wand.

…and then figure out how to make that stored spell trigger itself, and to make that spell trigger others that would convey only the needed information to me.

This was the kind of stuff I expected to learn from Acantha, but we weren’t quite there yet in class, and it wasn’t like I could go to her for help.

…or could I?

No, no I definitely couldn’t. But I didn’t necessarily need an experienced enchanter’s direct help… this kind of stuff was literally textbook, which was good because I was a literal college student and so I had literal textbooks. I’d already worked a bit ahead in the one for Acantha’s class, even, so what could it hurt to get a little farther ahead?

Of course, the thought “what could it hurt” occurring to me so soon after such a potent hubris-smacking as I’d received from the tower gave me a little pause.

How far was I really willing to chase this thing? My end goal was staying in a class I hadn’t wanted to take in the first place, and I’d gone from taking on two weeks of nightly sleep training to… well, this. And this was getting more complicated. Now I was contemplating making the sort of magic item I’d otherwise probably have been a year or more from attempting, and I had to make it in one night. If I’d only had more time, it might be different…

Well, that was the weird thing. I was pretty sure that if I didn’t have to get this resolved overnight, I probably would have walked away from it. But between the pressure from everything I’d sunk into I already and the pressure to finish it up, I felt like I didn’t have a choice. And the weirder thing was that knowing this didn’t make a difference. I still felt that way.

Did I really care this much about having my required design credits sewn up in the first semester of my sophomore year?

Maybe I did.

Well… that, and keeping the one guaranteed social tie I had to Nicki, my first new friend in months.

And keeping the respect of Professor Stone. I didn’t think that he’d consider it a reflection on me if I couldn’t work things out with Emily… he’d said up front that it was a possibility that we’d just have a basic incompatibility and that wouldn’t be anybody’s fault. But as much as I thought he might have taken a bit of a shine to me, I couldn’t imagine that I’d manage to stay within his periphery for long if I dropped his class.

I definitely wanted to stay close to him, if it was possible. I had a dim sort of idea that he might be able to help me get my foot in the door somewhere worth being after college… maybe not on the same level that someone like Acantha could, but possibly in a way that would let me keep a bit more of my self-respect.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to be breaking any new ground, so probably the worst thing that would happen is the item wouldn’t work, or it would work but wouldn’t let me do what I thought it would… or I’d spend a few hours poring over books and then realize that what I was trying was completely beyond my abilities.

So now the only question was to go to dinner like I normally would or get right down to it… on the one hand, skipping dinner would give me an extra hour or so to figure it out. On the other hand, would it really end up being so close a thing that such a little bit of extra time would make the difference? I’d taken the other side of that argument with the owl-turtle thing, but when it was my dinner that was on the line, somehow I could see its point a little better.

But then… as much as I liked food, I wouldn’t miss a meal… not the kind the dining service provided. I did need sleep, though. Assuming it didn’t actually take me all night but did keep me up late, then the real trade-off wasn’t between time eating and time working, but time eating and time sleeping.

In this case, the responsible thing would be to not eat.

I’d be even more responsible and set myself a deadline of midnight, too. If I didn’t have something cobbled together by midnight, I’d give up… unless I knew for certain that I was on the right track but I just wasn’t finished yet.

After all, there would be no sense in quitting something if it was working.


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33 Responses to “Chapter 177: Like A Ton Of Bricks”

  1. Markas says:

    Ah, Rationalising. Mackensies greatest skill

    Current score: 0
  2. zeel says:

    “After all, there would be no sense in quitting something if it was working.”

    Haha. . .

    So true. I often find myself awake at 6 AM (having been awake the whole time) without being nearly so tired as that should make me – simply because I was on the right track and making progress. It’s so hard to put something down when everything seems to be working out.

    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    The difficulty I foresee for Our Mack will be, can she tell the difference between possible success and probable disaster?

    ‘fini’ to a mockbox had personal consequences.

    ‘fini’ to an occupied building might be catastrophic!

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      ‘fini’ was a specific command word for a specific enchanted object. Emily, being a spontaneous spirit of a place, doesn’t have command words.

      Current score: 0
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      Can anyone?

      Sometimes all you can do is “suck it and see”.

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        Burnsidhe, I was meaning in general terms of triggering a line of code that would commit an action similar to ‘fini’.

        TheTurnipKing, ‘suck it and see’ in a world of lawyers, a cacophony of unpredictable magical forces and an heavily armed populace should always favor paralysis, doubt, reconsideration and expert opinions.

        Since the odds are that Mackenzie would be one of the few survivors of a major failure of the building structure, guess who takes the blame? Yep, the demongirl over there nervously brushing the dust off. And by association, lynch mobs and blood feuding relatives and drunken louts, will turn on any convenient victim they can get their hands on.

        Current score: 0
        • Burnsidhe says:

          As a spontaneous spirit, Emily *has* no ‘lines of code’ or ‘self-destruct sequences’. You’re talking about a sentient being, not an AI construct.

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          • Reb says:

            Well, from a neuroscience perspective all living things do… but I doubt that applies to MU

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            • pedestrian says:

              If I remember correctly, The Emily {spritus locus?} was ‘spontaneously’ generated while teams of enchanters and supporting staff were creating the physical building.

              That the complexity of the enchantments unexpectedly {stimulated? awoken? enhanced?} a {spirit? entity? psyche?} native to that location.

              What can be made can be unmade….otherwise, why would Emily experience pain except as a protective ap to encourage self-preservation?

              I consider The Emily to be an AI, though in terms of being sentient but not particularly sapient.

              I am of the opinion that people’s expectations for the development of Artificial Intelligence are rather unrealistic at our foreseeable level of technology.

              Current score: 0
            • Burnsidhe says:

              It would require unmaking *the building*. And Mack isn’t investigating the building’s structure of enchantments. She’s trying to duplicate the ring that Professor Stone wears that lets him understand what Emily’s feeling.

              Current score: 0
            • Burnsidhe says:

              Or in other words, Emily wasn’t an *intended* effect of the enchanting process. Further, she didn’t immediately manifest. It took a little while of classes being held and the random flows of stray magic to let her ‘wake up’, as I recall.

              Current score: 0
  4. Just Some Guy says:

    Woo-hoo! Magic geekery! I’ve been missing this.

    Mack’s going to do her first all-nighter, isn’t she? She’ll look up and notice that it’s 4:30 in the morning, and say “fuck it” and just keep going. And Amaranth will, for some reason, be pissed at her. Amy’s a bit too overprotective-mothery, sometimes.

    Current score: 0
  5. Mad Nige says:

    Typo:
    But between the pressure from everything I’d sunk into I already and the pressure to finish it up,
    should be
    …into it already…

    Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      Also:

      “That didn’t mean I’d asked unscathed.” – “asked” should probably be “escaped”.

      “I didn’t have anything like an enchanter’s ring, and I could hardly ask to borrow Professor’ Stone…” – “Professor’ Stone” should be “Professor Stone’s”.

      “Other than a headache and a small amount from when one of my elbows must have hit the floor, there didn’t seem to be any.” – This isn’t wrong, but it’s kind of awkward, since the first thing refers to a kind of pain and the second refers to an amount. If you changed “amount” to “twinge” (or something like that) it would make it more consistent.

      That said, interesting chapter. I love the ones where you delve into magical theory.

      Current score: 0
      • x says:

        “The fact that I apparently hadn’t died mean I was probably okay.” – “meant”
        “even an only incidental magical, non-sentient building.” – should this be “incidentally magical”?

        Current score: 0
      • Gruhl says:

        I must disagree with the first item on this list. She asked the building what its properties was, and the knowledge hurt her. Hence asked unscathed, as I read it.

        Your second item, I have no opinion either way on, not being a native english speaker.

        The third item, I yet again disagree, in spirit, not in letter. Your way of formulating the sentence might be more consistent. But as an example of Macks internal dialogue, I have no complaints about it.

        Current score: 0
        • erianaiel says:

          “Asked unscathed” is a bit of the skipping kind of stream of consciousness that we have come to associate with Mackenzie (and we love her for it :))
          Sort of going from A straight to C because B is so obvious it does not even register that it goes in between.

          I love this kind of literary twists and turns in the story, even the ones that are possibly unintentional because they are fascinating from a strictly language point of view and because they help the characters come to life (and everybody has their own little quirks in how they think and speak, and they tend to be different. This one is a typical Mackenzie-ism and not something Amaranth has ever done though she has her own quirks)

          Current score: 0
  6. Ergoemos says:

    If I may posit a solution:

    1: Mack needs an everyday object (she doesn’t have access to a bunch of specialized equipment)
    2: The object needs to be used to interface with other objects (so that she can use her “enhancement enchantment”)
    3: The object should probably be owned by her (So she doesn’t have to give it up eventually)

    What she needs to use is… a key. Keys are used to interface with buildings (via doors) all the time. She probably shouldn’t use her own key, as who knows what will happen, but I know for a fact that dorms replace keys all the time, so that’s no big loss.

    As a bonus, it is ridiculously symbolic. In a world that operates on “arbitrary game logic”, it would be practically perfect. Heroes get rewarded for crafty solutions all the time, just look at Mack and the scarecrow/pitchfork solution. This would be similar, but on a much more mundane scale.

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      From a logical standpoint I’m not certain how well this works, but from a symbolic standpoint it’s practically perfect! A key for interacting with a building, and potentially unlocking a new friendship. 🙂

      Current score: 0
      • Anne says:

        It seems that at least sometimes symbolic magic works in this universe so I agree. A key seems to be just the object. Also even a key blank might work…

        Current score: 0
    • Mo says:

      I wonder if her piercing would qualify?

      Current score: 0
      • Burnsidhe says:

        Knowing how magic can go wrong, would you really, really want to have something heavily enchanted piercing one of your sensitive bits? Something that, in addition, can’t be removed easily because of the existing enchantment?

        Current score: 0
        • Anne says:

          Bad idea, bad, bad idea… No Mack does not want to use her piercing! Or rather she does not want to use her nipple ring!

          Current score: 0
      • Erm says:

        Would she have to do all of her arcane analysis topless?

        (“Hang on, I need to scry this.” *starts stripping*)

        Current score: 0
  7. William Carr says:

    Hmm.

    Several thoughts.

    Mackenzie would be fascinated by the Transcranial Direct Current Stimulator I’m designing. It’s a simple circuit.

    Basically the magic equivalent could reinforce Mackenzie’s Human nature or suppress her Demonic nature.

    And it would look just like a metal headband with a powerstone.

    Next: design a “coolness enhancer” and zap the Suppressor with it.

    Current score: 0
    • Oni says:

      HAH! So you’re putting together a “Brain Overclocker”? Quite nifty; I’ve debated putting one together myself, but the long-term effects are still to be seen. Not that there appears to be any side effects at all, and they have been in use for some time.

      Care to share some info on your work?

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        William & Carr, ever heard the term “Being too smart for your own good?”

        Burning the candle at both ends may sound like an efficient way to double the amount of illumination. But, I’d say it’s a speedy way to quadruple the amount of your insurance premiums!

        Current score: 0
  8. Zathras IX says:

    Wrap your head around
    Your problems but don’t get it
    Wrapped around the axle

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      The Wheel of Fate
      turns, turns, turns.
      and When it is Your Date,
      It burns, burns, burns.

      Current score: 0
  9. Dan says:

    Actually, I don’t really get why Acantha can’t be asked. This is her exact area of expertise, its not something she can exactly rob an idea from, and Acantha has every reason to be a mentor to Mackenzie right now. Or at least the appearance of a mentor, and for a short-term project, that is the same thing.

    Current score: 0
    • Anne says:

      Yeah but do you expect a college freshman to think that?

      Current score: 0
      • Lyssa says:

        Hey now! She’s a *sophomore* now. She’s Grown Up.

        Current score: 0
    • Just Some Guy says:

      I think it has more to do with the whole “wanting to avoid Acantha until the mockbox situation gets resolved” issue than anything else. Otherwise, yeah.

      I don’t see why Mack doesn’t try repeating the ritual she learned from Eloise, trying every day to see if she can get a little closer than before. Either that or just ask Professor Stone about how his ring works.

      This is Our Mack, though, so she’s going to leave it until the last minute and hope for the best. Which is pretty much what I do.

      Current score: 0