Chapter 257: Double Jeopardy

on October 16, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Goes Down On Herself

I’d duped myself plenty of times before… wait, let me try again.

I had m… I had used the modified mockboxes before on many occasions, of course. I had been one of the first students to try one out, albeit in a very limited capacity. I had mostly become inured against the inherent surreality of stepping into a mostly dark box and suddenly finding myself faced with a glowing, color-tinged duplicate of myself.

Mostly.

To do it twice in a row and know each time that I wouldn’t be silently bidding my other self goodbye as she went to fight some other opponent in another room brought the weirdness back to the forefront of my mind.

I supposed this was a whole other dimension to the challenge: coping with the strangeness of it all. And not just the strangeness… one of the major lessons we’d internalized over the course of the semester was to not hold back, to not refrain from smashing a head or caving a chest in, to not pull back from the killing blow when it presented itself.

It was a hell of a thing, to have to learn how to kill another person.

But to do it to yourself?

Of course, it might be easier than it seemed. Amaranth had told me once that doppelgangers didn’t actually duplicate a person perfectly when they were going to kill that person, except when they only had a likeness to work off. They would instead form a mental link with their target and copy that person’s self-image, the picture of themselves that they kept in their head.

Apparently, a perfect duplication would often go unnoticed by the target, robbing the impostor of the advantage that came from being such an eerie vision. The difference between how we look and how we see ourselves is that extreme, apparently, as subtle as it might seem.

Of course, the context there was a duplicate showing up unannounced on your doorstep or something… maybe it was different if you were cued to see your perfect duplicate as yourself, as I was.

Or maybe I was overthinking it… after all, however big a delay there might have been from the shock of seeing myself at the other end of a staff-swing, my opponents would be suffering it, too. If the knowledge that they were fleeting copies could eventually overpower their initial state and balance out the inherent sameness that permeated their existence, it would take longer than a single short bout.

I took up my position in the center of the room, with my duplicates on either end. We nodded to Coach Callahan, who looked at each of us and then gave the signal to begin.

We didn’t move.

Of course we didn’t.

Against another opponent, I might have to explode into action or at least react to something right away, but with three of myself on the field, we were all on the same page: figure out what we’re doing here.

My mind went through and rejected a bunch of suggestions about clever, sneaky ways I could win… dispelling my magical duplicates, convincing them to join with me and take on Coach Callahan, stuff like that.

I knew the first one wouldn’t work because the coach had long ago made it clear that while she rewarded cleverness and unconventional approaches to winning a fight, she considered it cheating to take advantage of the nature of the simulation. Any tactic that only worked because my opponents were mockeries would only be useful against other mockeries, and thus would not represent a lesson I could take outside the classroom and apply in real life.

The team-up tactic… I wasn’t sure what the end-game on that was, exactly. I might well be able to convince my duplicates to do so, since they had no existence outside the exercise, but I could actually be killed permanently, and her weapons weren’t mocked. If I survived, I might get points for originality, but more likely I’d be penalized for picking a more dangerous fight for no reason

The one advantage I had was that I wasn’t much of a team player to begin with, and all of the drilling I had done over the semester and most of it before that had been one-on-one. Of course this had done nothing to prepare me for the realities of fighting against two opponents, but it had also done nothing to prepare me for the reality of fighting alongside someone, or coordinating my actions with them.

Of course, how much coordination would actually be necessary was a bit up in the air, because both of my opponents were the same person. They not only possessed copies of my mind, but they possessed an intrinsic quality of sameness with me, and thus with each other.

Well, that was something, anyway… I knew I could mostly count on them to come to the same conclusion as the other, which meant I wouldn’t have to worry about one of them getting clever.

I mean, especially clever, in comparison to me or the other one.

They wouldn’t be behaving quite identically, of course, because even though I was turning slow circles, whenever they decided to make their move, one of them would be approaching me from the front and the other from the back.

Ah, well…

I adjusted the grip on my staff to be more balanced and began to walk down the center of the room towards the back wall, on a line perpendicular to my dupes. Now we were the points of a triangle. Now my duplicates were both faced with a pretty close to identical situation.

They’d know what I was doing, I was sure, and try to adjust… but the sameness would affect their adjustments. Any adjustment they made would be identical, as long as I could keep them in a same enough situation.

The synchronized look they gave each other looked pretty knowing, but it was also synchronized. So far, so good.

I mean, there were probably limits to how much of a difference it would make if they were both walloping me simultaneously in exactly the same way or not, but there would be some advantages in terms of my defense.

On the subject of advantages and defenses, we all had the same air shell swirling around us, the same feelers of heat and wind. I almost canceled mine on the grounds that relying on them would make me too predictable, but I stopped… both because I knew that wasn’t what would make me predictable, and also because I realized something: as long as I was using the spells, I wasn’t predicting, I was reacting.

I fought back the urge to not follow this chain of thought consciously… they weren’t mindreaders, they were me. Our situation was either sufficiently different to prevent them from having realized the same thing I was realizing, or it wasn’t.

They’d begun to advance on me in a symmetrical pace. I figured they were probably hoping that I would lash out at one of them, giving the other a chance to attack independently. After all, they would know as well as I did that I was the one being graded here, and specifically being graded on how well I adhered to the ethos of the class, which was about ending fights quickly.

The idea that I could sit there and run out the clock was one of those clever ideas not worth listening to. The automatic A was for winning, not just surviving an arbitrary period of time.

While they did, I did a quick reconfigure of my defensive spells, trying to work as quickly as I could without being obvious I was doing anything more than pumping more energy into the nascent swirls of air around me.

Of course I’d be beefing up my defenses, I hoped they were thinking. It’s two against one.

What I was actually doing was setting up my protective air-currents to interfere with theirs, to feed them false information. I couldn’t manage anything too sophisticated, just the equivalent of cacophonous background noise where they’d be expecting a clear signal. It probably wouldn’t take them long to catch on and either adapt their own spells or drop them, but it might give me a chance to get in a few solid hits.

When they drew within striking distance, I realized what my next priority should be: separate them. Getting them moving in lockstep worked for softening their advantage early on, but I wouldn’t be able to keep them that way once we started fighting. The only way to counter the advantage of their numbers was the same way I would do that in a real fight: keep them separated.

…that wasn’t so much a solution as it was an identification of the problem, but the thing I’d been learning all semester was how to think on my feet. Knowing the problem would help me recognize the solution.

And while I was relishing the chance to frame things out in my head, I couldn’t keep relying on it. The longer we stood there, the greater the chance that they’d figure out what I was up to with my defense spells, or that they’d do something similar with theirs. If I was going to take advantage of their reliance on the spells for reactions, I needed them to react.

I whipped my staff at the blue dupe, activating the shortening spell that was contained within it to so that it missed contact with her staff, brought up to parry, and then reversed my swing, catching the orange mockery as I extended it again.

It worked, probably because I’d made that part up on the fly and it only made sense from my current point of view. I hadn’t made a habit of using the size-changing enchantments I’d mastered in this way, and it was clear they from how well it worked that my distracting field was working. The missed parry left the blue me off-balance, and I whacked her with the staff hard enough to send her flying.

This was a potent reminder of how hard they could hit, and I barely managed to intercept a swing from Orange that would have laid me out flat.

…in fact, it probably would have ended the fight if it had connected. I hadn’t thought about this before, but a lot of my fights had had only one solid hit. Against a magic weapon, I had no greater durability than any human.

Neither did they, of course, but there were two of them. The odds were very much on their side.

The good news was that the whack I’d given Blue had probably done some lasting damage, for the relevant value of “lasting”. I stayed on focused on Orange, though… that had been the point of the operation. Get them going one at a time.

There was a quick exchange of blows with Orange. We both had to adjust our parry tactics a little, as we were used to meeting the swings of weaker foes straight on and knocking their weapons aside. The key word there was “weaker”. Our staves weren’t so enchanted that they couldn’t be broken by another, identically-enchanted staff wielded by someone with supernatural strength, to say nothing of wrenched out of our hands from impact.

Although, now that I’d mentioned the identical enchantments, that was…

Crunch.

I’d been too slow to come to the end of that trail. Orange had pumped a bunch of energy into hardening her staff and then swinging right through mine. The shaft didn’t just snap where hers hit, it didn’t just splinter… it exploded. I had to leap back into a graceless, tumbling roll in order to avoid suffering a similar impact, though I managed to keep hold of my weakened and foreshortened weapon.

Getting back to my feet required a bit of turning around, so I took the opportunity to catch up on Blue. She was on her feet, but moving in a way that suggested she wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t copied the benefit of two semesters of study under Coach Callahan. She only had one hand on her staff… the other hung uselessly at her side. She was bent almost in two, leaning on the staff almost like it was a walking stick and not a weapon.

Okay…

I maneuvered around to the other side of her, getting her between me and Orange, who had fortunately overbalanced a bit on that power swing. She also looked a bit tired, and I could tell even at a distance that she’d let her air shields go. She had put more of herself into that enchantment than I ever would have, knowing that my energy reserves would be with me when the fight ended.

That was a bad sign… she was metagaming.

She wouldn’t be able to do that particular trick again, probably. She might gamble another burst of her remaining energy if she was sure it would the fight, but that had probably been the plan with the first burst. Knowing myself, I figured she’d have to be damned sure that her next stunt would work before she tried it again.

On the other hand, I had a pretty full reserve of energy, had my shields, and was relatively unhurt. If I just had a weapon, the advantage would be mine.

What I had in mind would be tricky, I knew. I was pretty sure I could take Blue’s staff from her, but Blue and her very much intact weapon would only continue to exist as long as she was in the fight. If I hurt her any more, she would blip out of existence. Even if I tripped her or knocked her down with a swirl of wind… if she couldn’t get up, that was it.

On the one hand, I was pretty sure that taking out even one of my two opponents was better than taking out none, and probably more than a lot of my classmates had done, possibly more than Coach Callahan expected from me.

On the other hand, if I didn’t have a weapon, then I couldn’t expect to do any better than that.

How to get the weapon away without knocking her down and possibly out? I’d pretty much have to grab her to support her… and while a brief image of holding myself hostage did flash behind my eyes, I knew it would get me nowhere. It was mock combat, not live-action roleplay. I didn’t put any value on my own life, and I couldn’t expect Orange to hold back on Blue’s account.

Orange was watching me watch Blue with interest. There was no question that she knew what I was thinking. She was too far away to charge me without me doing something clever and elemental to mess her up. Blue was backing up towards her, though, and soon I wouldn’t be able to make a move on Blue without stepping into Orange’s striking range.

Well, I needed a weapon… if I couldn’t get the quarterstaff away from Blue, I’d have to improvise. If this ultimately worked or didn’t, I could end the fight with at least one opponent down, and while Coach Callahan didn’t normally give out points for style or effort, I think she’d at least credit me for having recognized an opportunity.

Springing forward, I made my move. Blue recoiled and clutched her staff… I was expecting the elemental counter, but I was more than prepared for it. Full energy or not, she was in a lot of pain and that’s bad for concentration. I spun my own shell of air like a drill in front of me and it deflected the weak wall of wind she projected at me and caught her. That alone might have knocked her over, but I didn’t let her fall… I did catch her, and then swung her around like a hammer.

This was not something I had ever practiced, or even considered. There had been some full-contact fighting in this class, but most of it had been with an opponent much smaller or larger than me. And even when I’d sent someone flying with a staff swing, I hadn’t done much aiming.

My inexperience showed. My other self went flying in a low, relatively slow, and awkward arc. Orange tried to block with her staff rather than lashing out, which might have made the improvised projectile poof harmlessly away. They went down together as Blue bowled Orange’s legs out from underneath her, and then Orange was alone.

Her staff rolled free on the mat, a foot and a half away.

I dove for it.

She reached for it.

Her fingers reached it moments before mine… moments before mine were grasping for air. The size-changing spells I kept packed as neat charges in it didn’t take any external energy to trigger.

I was still unarmed. She wasn’t seriously hurt, though I was pleased to note that she was banged up, if not actually bloodied. My blood was up, and I was on the offensive now. I moved into a more serviceable crouch and readied to spring. Hadn’t I received an official exemption to the mandatory weapon rules on the grounds that I was never actually unarmed? Wasn’t I a fierce creature? Wasn’t I a monster?

Wasn’t I a demon?

I leapt.


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56 Responses to “Chapter 257: Double Jeopardy”

  1. CBob says:

    Know thyself.

    Much love.

    Current score: 8
  2. D. D. Webb says:

    Only Mack could make such a duel so utterly cerebral. Of course, now the overthinking seems to have been put on hold… This is where it’ll get interesting.

    Current score: 2
  3. zeel says:

    I don’t think orange has a chance, she’s too injured and weak to stop Mackenzie if she leaps at her. She might not-kill her on the way out, but she can’t beat her.

    Current score: 2
    • Ilya says:

      The staff is currently short, so orange doesn’t have too much advantage of distance, but she may still reach for leaping Mack before she does with her teeth or nails which happen to be her natural magic weapons.

      Current score: 1
      • Brenda A. says:

        Mack’s first move was to switch the length back and forth on the fly, so that’s not really a factor. Orange can do the same.

        Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      IF this was a standard fight I’d agree, but this just turned into a match of claws and fangs against claws and fangs. It just takes a couple of good bites or scratches with magic weapons and suddenly one of them has a broken limb or torn blood vessel.

      Current score: 2
      • zeel says:

        But orange is still armed, she may not anticipate Mackenzies strategy, as she only came up with it in the moment. I think this will put her off balance enough that she won’t survive the attack. She might manage to put her staff in between them (and probably extend to impale Mackenzie), but I don’t think she has the strength left to actually stop a charging half-demon.

        Current score: 0
        • JS says:

          Would Orange be even less likely to think of it? Mack noticed she was metagaming, which means kind of cheating, which is kind of against Mack’s principles, but then Mack’s decided to own her demon-ness for this purpose. Hm. Eeeeenteresting! Come on, Tuesday!

          Current score: 0
  4. Anthony says:

    Argh! A cliffhanger?!?

    I wonder, though. A person “killed” by a mocked weapon makes a full recovery when the mockery effect ends. Does this mean that, at the end of the fight, Mackenzie’s staff will be fixed?

    Current score: 2
    • Ilya says:

      Yes, it should be.

      Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Actually it means her staff was never broken, it just appeared to have been.

      Current score: 4
      • pedestrian says:

        Ilya & Zeel, I have to disagree.

        It is correct that injuries suffered from mock weapons, disappear upon the end of the mocked play but the memory of being wounded or injured remain.

        How else would the student learn from these lessons?

        Maybe the original staff will be restored once the test match is over but it will retain the ‘memory’ of being destroyed.

        Lacking the resiliency of biological organisms, I am of the opinion that whatever is left will need to be replaced.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          A staff has no memory, and even if it did it would not retain any physical harm. That just doesn’t make any sense.

          The mock box realistically simulates everything, from dismemberments to broken sticks. Anything that is harmed by a mockery is only harmed in illusion. If Mackenzie fell on her stick it would really break, but having it cracked by a phantasmal fighter with a phantasmal stick won’t hurt it.

          Remember people get their clothes not-destroyed all the time. Damage to clothing was never an issues until someone tried using their real teeth in combat. There is no reason to believe the weapon would be harmed.

          Current score: 3
          • Nocker says:

            On one hand, yeah, that’s what I assumed. Her real staff would snap back into place and all would be well.

            On the other hand, I kinda hope it breaks for real. That way she has to get it replaced again and might “trade up” to something cooler.

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

              Honestly, I’m kind of surprised they’re not still using phantasmal weapons here. I know they can go all out against their illusory opponents, but after Mack phantasmally blinded herself during that one fight with Nae when she accidentally snapped the mock staff in two, you’d think that there might be at least some consideration for the potential expense of unnecessary weapon damage. I know Callahan doesn’t give much in the way of fucks, but with all the effort she’s gone to to make sure these guys can really cut loose, removing that last obstacle seems like a logical step.

              Current score: 1
            • zeel says:

              Hell they might be. It never said she didn’t mock it. Though I don’t think she did, it would make more sense if they did.

              Current score: 0
            • Order of Chaos says:

              A mock of a mock can’t be touched, Pala tryed that.

              Current score: 0
            • Nocker says:

              To be fair, Pala tried to make a mock of a phantasm. Her own weapon was a totally different thing that just had similar qualities.

              Though I doubt even an actual illusionist understands mockboxes that well. They’re “only” a few decades old and their ramifications are still being explored going by what other people have said and seen.

              Hell, if I’ve got my timeline of events down right(and I’m pretty sure I do), there are a whole lot of unknowns in that equation even in universe. Both mocking items and magic weaponry have both been invented or reinvented so recently that there’s no real “standard” for them. That’s not even considering that policy and cultural changed in the last few decades means that you have several times more weapons being bought and sold, and several times as much research done or foreign techniques imported(Julia’s sword has a lot of the same features as Jamie’s axe. Hers is a fifty year old mass produced model and his is an ancient fae artifact. To hear some characters tell it his artifact is basically worthless compared to something actually modern weaponry, which does all that plus lightning and teleportation).

              Current score: 0
  5. Jennifer says:

    I ADORE this chapter. This is awesome. (Mackenzie recognizing she’s not the best team player, for one thing…)

    Current score: 5
    • spess imvader says:

      Same here! I wonder if the mockboxes are set as usual, or if the mock copies are set to fight dirty (thus explaining the metagaming).

      Current score: 0
  6. Ilya says:

    Another cliff hanger 🙁

    Current score: 3
  7. Glenn says:

    One interesting thing about this fight is that Callahan is probably learning as much about how much Mack has learned from what her opponents are doing as she is from how well Mack is doing. So is Mack marked up because Orange was clever enough to break Mack’s staff and Blue was tough enough to get back up despite being badly hurt?

    Current score: 9
    • zeel says:

      I imagine she is watching all three quite intently.

      Current score: 6
      • Ilya says:

        Of course, all three of them are Mack and all three fight to win and all three have different strategies and moment decisions, so Callahan can judge Mack from 3 perspectives – it’s like giving person 3 tests in the same time.

        Current score: 3
      • Seth says:

        I’d imagine she’s laughing her ass off and throwing back a cold one.

        Current score: 0
  8. Dani says:

    > I leapt

    Okay, until this line, I thought Mack was going to win. But the only followup to this line that I can imagine is “and Orange batted me out of the ball park.”

    Current score: 2
    • Glenn says:

      I was also assuming Mack would probably win the fight and get her A. But it occurs to me now that AE will probably want Mack to take more classes with Callahan, given how much they advance the story. But why would Mack do so, since she’s not all that interested in fighting, and has now taken the necessary fighting course needed to get her degree? Maybe because Amaranth will tell her that she needs to get an A in one of Callahan’s classes if she’s going to earn the right to wear Amaranth’s collar? So Mack will have to keep taking courses with Callahan until she gets an A in one of them.

      Current score: 2
      • Order of Chaos says:

        Would taking out Blue not be enough to get an A in your mind then? Coach Callahan probably plans to give out some A’s and taking out one mock puts Mack ahead of the curve. I agree AE might want to keep Callahan around but Mack not being an A at this point would need her to be slacking off quite a bit.
        Would running to the mock box for backup be cheating?

        Current score: 0
        • Glenn says:

          Sorry, duplicate post, ironically enough.

          Current score: 0
        • Glenn says:

          I’m pretty sure the students in this test will be graded according to Callahan’s idea of an objective standard, rather on just how well they do against their duplicates. Imagine how you or I might do in such a test. I’d probably be a rather bad fighter, so the only opponents I might have a chance to do well against would be my own dups, who would have the same low level of skill I might have.
          Callahan’s notes on Mach’s test might include things like: “Blue had the guts to get back up, but the pain seems to have stopped her from fighting effectively after that point.” and “Mach had at least 3 ideas her dups didn’t seem to expect 1 Changing her sensor field to affect theirs, 2 changing size of staff mid swing, 3 picking up Blue and using her body as weapon. Orange had at least 2 ideas Mack didn’t expect. 1 increase power of staff in swing to break Mack’s staff. 2 change size of staff to keep Mack from grabbing it.” I don’t know how well Mack will be graded against the curve, maybe a B or B+?
          Callahan might really like the idea of a student who got reinforcements from the mock box.

          Current score: 1
          • Glenn says:

            But only if the idea worked. The two existing dups would probably be ready pretty quickly to kill the student inside the enclosed area of the mock box.
            And Mack might have a better chance of getting a A based on performance if Blue had fought better despite her injury.

            Current score: 0
          • Rip says:

            I think Callahan would also increase her grade for her duplicates’ good ideas, and decrease her grade if her duplicates perform badly. After all, they’re her, and their ability is a reflection of Mack’s ability and training. It would make sense to judge her not just on her performance, but her duplicates’ performance. If a duplicate fails to anticipate something, it means Mack would have failed to anticipate it in a similar situation. If her duplicates are creative and cunning it means Mack is creative and cunning. Defeating both of them is an automatic A just because it’s so damn impressive, even considering that it’s also interpretable as an indictment against her ability to cooperate with anyone.

            Current score: 3
        • Ilya says:

          I don’t think so, since the rules of the class, with mocking fighter/weapons, was use whatever means necessary to win, except knowledge of mockery.
          It’s like dispelling mocks was definitely cheating.

          Current score: 0
          • Order of Chaos says:

            So get table, enchant table, use table on MockMack?

            Current score: 0
      • Nocker says:

        Any number of things could happen. The prime example being the airship: Just being out of Harpy territory doesn’t make it SAFE. Any number of dangerous people or things could be aboard and it’ll be a wake up call for how much more work Mackenzie needs self defense wise.

        Besides, even if it isn’t a class there’s always the Arena. Which would be cool because then we’d probably see Mackenzie have to fight Puddy.

        Current score: 1
  9. Grant says:

    I cannot wait five days for the next installment… 🙁

    Current score: 1
  10. readaholic says:

    Awesome chapter 🙂
    What I’m wondering is – is this really from Mack’s point of view, or from a mock’s point of view?

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Mack’s, of course. If it was from a mock’s point of view only one of her opponents would be color-coded. Also, the point was for the two mocks to team up against the original, which they did. Both mocks attacked Mack. Neither mock attacked the other until Mack used one as an improvised throwing weapon.

      Current score: 1
  11. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    and it was clear they from how well it worked that my distracting field was working.

    Extraneous “they”.

    I stayed on focused on Orange, though…

    First “on” isn’t needed.

    She might gamble another burst of her remaining energy if she was sure it would * the fight,

    Missing word after “would”, possibly “win” or “end”.

    Current score: 0
  12. Burnsidhe says:

    I think, barring Mack actually winning against both her duplicates, what would impress Callahan the most is if Mack used some of the techniques that her classmates used against her effectively.

    After all, she wouldn’t be expecting that from herself. Which is also a weakness in her thinking.

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      That’s what she’s doing though. She handled blue the way Pala handled her, and she’s biting Orange the way Nae bit her.

      Not much else can be done, unless she wants to dye her hair and monologue a bunch.

      Current score: 2
      • Burnsidhe says:

        True, but there were more fighters she faced than just Nae and Pala. Some fighters, she can’t really duplicate, those that are just plain faster and more perceptive. But she could adopt other techniques. At least she’s thinking in the right lines and adopting a more aggressive approach.

        Which is very much the point; she’s otherwise very defensive as a fighter. Though she may be about to get a lesson in why going all-out offense can be very, very painful.

        Current score: 1
        • Nocker says:

          To Mackenzie’s credit, the Staff is an inherently defensive weapon, when used as a weapon. Any enchantments she works with will be inherently better in that capacity in the same sense that an axe is inherently a better striking weapon.

          The only way for her to really get behind a new offensive style would be for her to pick up a whole new weapon more oriented to taking the offensive.

          Claws and fangs aside, I could get behind Mackenzie grabbing a secondary weapon, like a dagger. She could keep it inside her jacket for easy storage.

          Current score: 0
  13. Mack says:

    I love this so much. I want to hear about fighting all the time.

    Current score: 0
    • Lyssa says:

      Sometimes, I swear you post things like this just to say something Mack would never say. 😀

      Current score: 1
  14. Anvildude says:

    It’s ironic that AE’s magnificent at writing action sequences, but writes stories where the protagonists are actively trying to avoid fights.

    Great bit, and sooner than I was expecting. I’m kinda happy to see Mackenzie learning a bit more to accept all of herself instead of just pushing a bit in a corner, but, like Amaranth, I do worry a little if accepting her whole self instead of being defined primarily by half might change her significantly enough that her current social circle might, well, dissolve.

    Current score: 4
    • Nocker says:

      I don’t think it’s going to be Mackenzie that makes that change.

      Steff and Ian have both grown as people by a significant degree, and obviously want different things now from what they did a year ago. For Steff she’s looking to jump over to Glory and friends which is close by, and for Ian he’s obviously looking for something nobody in Mackenzie’s circle can actually give him. Even Two has blossomed a whole bunch and evolved as a person.

      People tend not to stagnate. Even if Mackenzie locks in as her current self forever every other friend would eventually evolve.

      Current score: 0
  15. Spartakos says:

    I love the ending; I was waiting for her to come to that realization practically the whole fight.

    Current score: 1
  16. Zathras IX says:

    It’s always a Hell
    Of a thing to learn to kill
    Another person

    Current score: 2
  17. Lurk says:

    I think Mack just blew it. Scoreboard: she has almost full energy reserves, while Orange is pretty drained. She is unarmed but unhurt, while her dupe is armed and mostly unhurt. The right move here is to engage at range, using elemental assaults – perhaps reducing the heat in the air around Dupe, slowing her down and hitting her with her elemental weakness to cold. Orange lacks the power to stop her in a straight magic throwdown. Turning it into a wrestling match or slugfest not only takes away her biggest advantage, it hands the advantage over. Fight goes to the one with the weapon.

    I hope so. This is the culmination of the vague, subtle uneasy feeling we’ve all been getting about Mack’s increased self-awareness and assertiveness. AE has done some masterful foreshadowing as Mack becomes increasingly self-absorbed and manipulative, and it could come to a head here.

    It’s one thing for Mackenzie to accept her demonic half, and even to acknowledge that, human-blood-human-soul, it doesn’t inherently make her evil. It’s something else entirely for her to start to regard “being a demon” as an advantage, as a good thing. I hope she gets put down hard here, and begins at last to realize the danger of the ground she treads.

    Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      Right, but unfortunately Mackenzie has all of jack shit without her staff. She was dumb enough to practice her only offensive spells exclusively with her staff or a wand, and she didn’t bring any of her prepared wands in case she needed to shoot lightning. Not to mention that her opponent is every bit as immune to her fire attacks as she is anyway, so that nullifies 90% of what she could do in these conditions.

      If she enchanted a hold out weapon like a dagger or a second impact baton it’d be a non-issue, but she’s still thinking of the class in terms of bare minimum required materials and what protects her precious self image as a put-upon enchantment nerd(as opposed to those disgusting skirmish nerds, or worse, ARMORY majors. Ugh!).

      Current score: 0
  18. Lurk says:

    On the other hand, I also really hope she wins, because GO MACKENZIE YOU CAN DO IT I BELIEVE IN YOU EYE OF THE TIGER

    Current score: 0