Chapter 296: Those Tricky Little Questions

on April 23, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 9: Who Is Mackenzie Blaise?, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Two Deals With An Existential Problem

It was kind of amazing what a difference three credit hours could make.

I’d always taken between fifteen and eighteen hours a semester. This time, I’d registered for a full load of fifteen hours a week, but because of some scheduling SNAFU that no one had really bothered to explain, I’d been bumped from one of my classes. This left me with only two hours of classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and three hours on Tuesday and Thursday.

Because I’d been both away and kind of occupied during most of winter break, I’d missed this fact until just before the session started. My first inclination was to look around for another class I could get into, but after a little reflection I started to look at it as a blessing.

I mean, the fact that I didn’t have anything better to do with my summers except take a few extra classes meant I would probably graduate ahead of schedule anyway… and did I really want to leave school months or more ahead of schedule, when everyone I loved was here?

It was Glory, the elf whose girlfriend I was, who’d convinced me the best thing to do would be to let it ride. Elves living in elven society weren’t recognized as adults until they’d passed the century mark, so with the rise of the modern human-style university, they’d picked up the habit of taking decades to get a degree, often taking the same classes over and over again as the knowledge they picked up became obsolete. It was just something to do to pass the time.

I wasn’t just passing time, but I also tended to have a lot going on in my life. Time management had become an issue for me in the last semester. I’d always liked to space my classes out a bit so that I had a nice break in the afternoon where possible, but now I had my afternoons completely free three days a week.

I could tell even on day one it was going to be nice, and Probably better in the long run than having my mornings free… if things had worked out that way, I probably just would have ended up sleeping in all the time.

Being done with class before lunch? That meant I could do whatever I wanted. I could take a nap if I really needed it, but I didn’t even have to stay on campus if I didn’t want to. I could take the coach into Enwich and go shopping. I could hit up libraries or bookstores. I could go the theater in the afternoon when they were almost empty. I could do anything.

That first day, though, I didn’t want to do anything except take a nap. The holiday break had been a lot of things, but restful wasn’t one of them. I headed back to my room after my first class, even before lunch. I wasn’t planning on skipping it, exactly… but I was open to the possibility that it would be skipped.

I had just slipped into my room… now on the ninth floor of Gilcrease Tower… when I heard the sound of a door opening on the other side of the adjoining bathroom. I was a little surprised that anyone else was home in the middle of the day, but I didn’t think anything of it. The bathroom kind of belonged to our suitemates more so than myself or my primary girlfriend and roommate Amaranth… we liked having a private shower/bathtub, but we didn’t the same need for the main feature of the room as they did.

I was more surprised when there was a knock… well, three very precisely timed knocks… on the door that connected the bathroom to our room.

“Come in, Two,” I said.

“It’s me,” she said. “Two.”

“Come in,” I said.

She was wearing sandals, a pair of skinny jeans, and a white fitted tee that were all noticeably bedecked with swirling patterns of variously sized kite-shaped rhinestones in a pale lavender. Her long, straight blonde hair was swept back from her face by a wide black u-shaped band, also sparkling with the same shinies.

It would have been impressive enough if I thought she’d found an entire outfit that matched in that way, but I was pretty sure she’d made or modified everything that she was wearing, which was even more impressive.

“Hi, Two,” I said.

“Hi, Mackenzie!” she said. “I need clarification.”

“Ask away.”

“Have you or Amaranth taken the furniture out of your dorm room?”

If anybody else had asked this question, I would have asked them if they thought a four-poster bed came standard with the suite… well, unless they were a school official, in which case I would have hemmed and hawed a bit and maybe figured out how to answer the question without implicating myself or lying.

Two rarely asked anything out of idle curiosity. She was also… technically, sort of… a school official now, since she’d joined the R.A. program and was now one of the the two girls’ advisors for our floor. She also knew perfectly well that Amaranth had replaced the bunk bed months ago, at the start of the previous semester. To help make room, she’d removed one of the two desks.

“Well…” I said. “Another way to phrase the question would be, have we put any of the furniture anywhere that’s not in the dorm room, right?”

Her eyes went through a quick little movement as she evaluated the statement. I doubt most people would have noticed it.

“Yes,” she said.

“And we haven’t put any of the furniture anywhere that’s not in the dorm room,” I said. “Does that answer your question?”

This time she thought about it a little longer, her eyes twitching back and forth and her mouth pulling into a slight frown. I knew this didn’t necessarily signal disagreement, though I also knew she hadn’t fully approved of Amaranth’s redecorating spree.

“Yes,” she said, suddenly all smiles… and then just as suddenly, not. “Oh! You or Amaranth haven’t damaged any of the furniture, have you?”

“…I don’t think you could say that we have,” I said. If the rules specified a penalty for destroying dorm furniture, and if you defined destruction as the act of causing something not to exist in the physical universe anymore, then we might be in trouble… but if the rules forbade destroying the furniture, Two would have used that word.

“Okay,” she said, and the smile was back. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

She turned very smartly in place and left, closing the door behind her.

I understood where she was coming from. It had been uncomfortable enough for her to have her suitemates skirting the rules before she’d been responsible for enforcing them. Now that this was the case, formally finding an interpretation of things that made Amaranth’s extradimensional hijinks okay had become imperative.

Things might get a little dicey during inspection time, though. The previous semester, the RAs who pulled that duty had took Amaranth at her word that she could put everything back as good as new before we moved out, simply noting that she’d have to pay for anything that was missing. I had a feeling Two would insist on actually seeing the inventory before she checked anything off.

Not that I blamed her for wanting to do things by the books.

It was just how she was made.

Once upon a time, when the practice of magic had been both more individualized and thus more specialized, making golems of any material had been pretty straightforward: you found enough of that material to make a human-sized person-sized figure, and then you enchanted a semblance of life into said figure.

Those who worked in flesh were already on step ahead, insofar as their material often came conveniently packaged in the right size and shape, with the drawback that it also usually came pre-bundled with a life inside it.

Back in the day, flesh golems were pretty widely viewed as abominations. If making a flesh golem wasn’t actually a kind of necromancy, it was sort of… necromancy-adjacent. Even if the golem maker wasn’t a murderer personally, they’d be suspected of employing them.

These days, though, most people who made golems in any material were also transmuters.

Casting an iron golem required a lot of bulky specialty equipment. Chipping a golem out of stone was really time consuming. Clay, though? Clay was the material used for the first golems for a reason: it was pretty cheap, easy to find, and very easy to work with.

So you could start with a big lump of clay, and you could sculpt that clay into whatever form you wanted, using any combination of tools and magic to do so, and then you just transmuted that into your desired end material. Easy-peasy.

Well, actually, it was still pretty hard to create a golem, and transmutation on that scale took a lot of energy. But it was definitely easier and… quite possibly… peasier.

Then there were the more exotic materials, like glass and ivory. Do you know how hard it is to find a block of ivory big enough to carve a person out of it? Yeah, I don’t either. Just imagine the kind of creature it would be attached to, though.

If transmutation had revolutionized the industrial production of iron and stone golems and opened up the door to other golems of less traditional materials, it had totally rehabilitated the whole concept of flesh golems.

Taking a dead body… or pieces of several dead bodies… and treating them as the raw material for an ambulatory magic item, with or without an intelligence guiding it, was the kind of thing that was bound to squick people out. Making a statue that looked like a person, though? That was nothing. That was art. That meant it was almost respectable.

And sure, there were people who still viewed any golem-making as a kind of blasphemous imitation of the gods, but that wasn’t really particular to flesh golems.

Two was a flesh golem, of the modern variety. Her maker had fashioned her body in the semblance of a waifish human girl in the earliest throes of adulthood, then transmuted that body into the form of a pale blonde.

Before he did that, though, he’d carved three runes into her forehead, the one constant, outward sign that she was anything other than a golem. In the rune system he used, they were the Tree of Life, the Wizard’s Mark, and the Circle of Will, negated with a slash.

Runes are so stylized that if you saw them, you’d have to be forgiven for not understanding what they signified. The first time Two saw them, she’d read them as letters, which she took to be the name her maker never bothered to give her.

The first rune means she’s alive and not just animated. She eats, she drinks, she breathes, she has all the bodily functions of full mortality, though from what I understand the grosser ones can be more or less suspended while she’s asleep.

The second rune makes her body a vessel for magical energy, which means she can do magic. This is the reason her maker saddled what he saw as a tool with things like a stomach and a bladder: it is the processes of life that create such energy. If she didn’t have appetites and a burning need for air, she’d only have the energy he put into her, like a wand or a powerstone.

The third rune gave her a mind… consciousness, a will. The slash meant that her will was not free. She could think for herself and make up her own mind about things, but she was bound to obey the orders of her creator, including meta-orders like “Also obey this person, except where it contradicts what I have told you.”

She was free now. The standard golem freedom form was a little more complicated than “disregard all future orders”, since that would have left all free golems essentially contrarian criminals. But that was the gist of it: no order she received would ever again reach the part of her thought process that handled them as will-subverting Orders. She belonged to herself.

Being freed after decades of service led to a difficult transition for most golems, but it had been rougher for Two than for most. See, she was… as I suppose we all are… as her creator had made her. As a living being with a will her own, even a constrained will, she was capable of having desires and motivations. As a created being, the baseline state of her existence was defined by her creator. He had given her one single, overriding impulse: the desire to do as she was told.

It must have made her life as a piece of office equipment/perpetual wizard’s apprentice a lot more palatable, but when her maker got married and up and dumped her outside a shelter to appease his wife, it had become her curse.

She’d come to Magisterius University without any hobbies, no favorite food, no friends waiting for her back at the group home. The only thing that had interested her was doing what she was told.

I didn’t think it was possible to overwrite that desire without some serious and ethically questionable telepathic manipulation, but it had been a lot more overwhelming when it was her only desire.

Now there were lots of things she wanted, lots of things she liked. She liked to cook. She loved to eat, especially dessert. She loved banana pudding. She loved her best friend, Hazel. She loved me.

…no, she wasn’t one of my girlfriends. Two had not been created with any sexual or romantic desires. As far as I could tell, she didn’t feel like she was missing out.

Sometimes… pretty much anytime I thought about it, actually… I hated her creator. I hated him for doing this to her, for making someone this way and then setting them free.

When I thought about it a little more, though… well, I don’t want to excuse his actions, because they’re inexcusable. But as our friend Dee… her roommate… said when speaking about her religious views on golem-making, I’m still glad that she exists. I’m glad the path she took in life led her here. I love her, too. If nothing else, we both know what it’s like to be the creepy thing in the basement.

When I first met her, I was fiercely protective of her. These days she doesn’t need much protecting, and she has no end of people who would stand up for her if she did.

In a lot of ways, she’d found her footing a lot faster than I had.

I guess that’s the advantage of being a golem. We are all as our creators made us, but the path between her and hers was a lot more straightforward. I knew that she’d grappled with questions about what she should do with her life and stuff like that, but at a fundamental level, she knew who she was in a way that I didn’t, and maybe couldn’t.

She was Two.

It said so on her forehead.

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30 Responses to “Chapter 296: Those Tricky Little Questions”

  1. tomclark says:

    My first inclination was to look around for another class I could get into, but after a little reflection I started to look at it as a blessing.

    So she realized she’s deathly allergic to taking 12 credit hours?

    Current score: 34
    • Arancaytar says:

      Had to read that three times before it clicked.

      Current score: 6
  2. Nocker says:

    Well that certainly puts to bed some unfortunate implications regarding Two’s origins.

    Though on that note, it also raises a few more general ones. Like how exactly does one construct a golem-statue. Hair seems like one of those things basically impossible to work in clay and there’s the question of if she had little clay organs built inside her(which sounds easier thinking about it. Transmuting one organ at a time takes less energy than the whole thing at once probably would). Does the enchanter have to do it him or herself or can they hire out a sculptor to do it for them?

    For some reason I’m imagining a golem shop with jars full of stone hearts and clay lungs, and any customer just has to put down specifics and they’ll just assemble the body around them.

    Of course there’s also the question of plastics. You could just stamp an entire body out at once then enchant away. Though at that point you may just be breaking “the rules”.

    Current score: 1
    • That other guy says:

      I think we’re all aware of just how dense and unobservant Mackenzie can be at times. That Mackenzie doesn’t spell out in her mental musings what sort of, uhm, let’s say bodily functions that Two may have assisted her creator with, doesn’t rule out the possibility that such may have occurred.

      Hair in clay isn’t that difficult. I’m not saying that any novice can do it, but it’s one of the “standard” things that were done in my high school’s clay-working class. Obviously some people are better than others at it. In any case, I presume that you only have to get a clay statue “close enough” before you can magic it the rest of the way. I mean, if it were a strict transmutation, then since clay can’t stretch the statue could never talk or form words. It would probably be easier to start with a skeleton of some sort, whether real or magic’d up, play some clay organs inside, lay down clay muscles, then stretch some clay skin over it like some sort of fondant wrapping, but I doubt everything was precisely replicated beforehand.

      Current score: 2
      • Nocker says:

        Of course then we get into two of the fundamental principles of enchanting in this case though:

        1. Hand Crafting your item makes it more effective an enchant.

        2. The composition of your item affects it’s function and effectiveness.

        Ergo the most effective solution for building a golem is to build THROUGH the Golem. Our theoretical craftsman thus has more control over the minutae of construction and can substitute clay for any other material that’d be better as a base for that particular organ, or use mineral dusts to change the composition of the clay. Then just slap a skin over it and you’re basically done.

        As for things like hair, I have a sneaking suspicion that they might “cheat” on things like that. In a world where slavery is legal and reasonably common, hair is probably even cheaper than real life. Given how things like shape changing work it might even be more convenient since it’s a closer match to what you’re going for than a fully synthetic fabric or just faking it with more clay.

        Current score: 1
        • zeel says:

          I don’t think it requires that level of detail really. I’m guessing you really just need a statue the general shape and size of the golem, then all the details are part of the transmutation spell.

          So the individual hairs, the organs, etc – would all be created from the clay at once in the transmutation. So you wouldn’t need to sculpt anything but the outer shape – and even that will be refined by magic.

          Current score: 2
          • Nocker says:

            Of course it probably isn’t strictly necessary. However going by what we know that kind of minutae is probably more efficient and effective.

            After all, it’s one thing to make an entire human. It’s another to just make a bunch of scale organs with blood samples rather than water to mold the clay(itself integrated with mineral dust), getting everything much closer and more effective. Depending on your level of detail and knowledge it could on it’s own be the difference between a regular human off the street who can barely work magic, and building a prodigy who’s potential power output is as good as Mackenzie’s.

            Granted I doubt Two is quite that involved. Anyone who doesn’t bother to properly name their golem probably doesn’t do more than commission a statue and transmute it themselves after carving the runes.

            Current score: 1
      • Readaholic says:

        Actually, that Two was created as an asexual magical assistant, but with complete organs, tells us that she wouldn’t be used as a sexual object, as her virginity is a very useful (and rather rare) magical quality. Namely, her creator has source of virgin blood on hand.

        Current score: 0
        • Nocker says:

          Authentic human seems to be a qualifier. Demihumans and half humans don’t register. So if he’s working with anything diabolic it might not be enough to register.

          Of course if it does work that’d also explain him going with blonde, given that’s Bohd’s requirement and presumably others as well. It could be that if he ever got desperate for whatever reason he could just summon a demon and placate it with his golem. Demonic power would probably be greater than her own and he’d just need to build another one later.

          Current score: 0
          • Yumi says:

            There could still be a use for non-human virgin blood aside from diabolic arts, and it’s possible he’d use her for that. Of course there are still even more disturbing possibilities for him making her the way she is.

            Current score: 0
            • Lucy says:

              what, like his real daughter died in a horrible carriage accident just before hand and he made Two as a nearly identical replacement?

              Current score: 0
      • Adele says:

        Mack has asked Two explicitly if her master had used her sexually. Two has been very clear in response: it would not have been wrong for him to use her so (from her perspective), but no, he never did.
        As to why he made her in the form that he did, well, perhaps “waifish young blonde” is the exemplification in his mind of a pliable lab assistant.

        Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      I don’t think we technically learn anything in this chapter, but it certainly ties it all up in a nice little bow.

      Current score: 1
    • Arancaytar says:

      I doubt that sculpting the clay was more complicated than making an ordinary, non-magical clay sculpture.

      Otherwise, stopping at organs and hair would seem arbitrary – you’d have to build muscles, sinews, nerves, even individual cells.

      Instead, the MU universe runs on holistic principles and sympathetic magic. You can transmute something into “flesh” and implicitly replicate the structure of tissue to a greater detail than any sculptor could.

      It seems like the process would just involve crafting a more or less life-like statue (because the sympathetic magic works better with more detail) and turning that into a person all at once. Much like what Mack explained about enchanted vehicles and machines, trying to enchant and assemble individual pieces would be more difficult and failure-prone.

      Current score: 6
      • zeel says:

        Exactly, you need a clay thing that is shaped enough like a person that it contains some of the inherent properties of being “person like”. Then you can transmute it into an actual person, in much the same way that mocked weapons are so detailed because of that “sameness” property. The goal isn’t to create a perfect clay replica of a human, it’s to create a symbolic replica of a human – so that magic can turn it into a functional imitation of one.

        Current score: 3
    • Markaslin says:

      I believe there was an OT about Two at the freed golem home, where it is heavily implied that at least one gigolo golem (meaning a golem made for the pleasing of women) has taken advantage of Two to fulfill his prime prerogative. I do not believe she is a virgin.

      Current score: 1
      • Readaholic says:

        Not any more, no. Another possible reason Two was created fully female, but asexual, is so that she didn’t have any distractions. After all, you don’t want your office equipment getting distracted.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          On that note, I am guessing that her asexuality is more incedental than intentional. Mackenzie has noted that a fertile golem is impossible, thus we know her reproductive system doesn’t do anything. Giving a golem sexual desires at all is probably an added feature.

          Current score: 0
  3. Laci says:

    Beautiful, simply beautiful.

    Current score: 0
  4. pedestrian says:

    Hmmm, how inventive!
    Brings a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘mud wrestling’.

    Current score: 0
  5. Bill Bolbson says:

    I wonder why Two looks at rules as absolutes that must be obeyed. In our world laws are the ultimate “rules” but they are not written as “you must do this” rather they are written as consequences for doing certain things. For example “if you murder someone you’ll go to jail for 25-30 years” or “if you physically assault someone then you’ll go to jail for 5 year and be financially responsible for medical costs”. Things like a university handbook will have rules like “students may not remove furniture from the dorm rooms”, but even those rules are implicitly written as action-consequence because the university will have policies for dealing with what happens when the rules are broken.

    So instead of simply following every rule arbitrarily, Two needs to understand that each rule is a stated tradeoff between some action and some penalty. If the penalty is acceptable then you are free to break the rule.

    Current score: 1
  6. zeel says:

    So my big question: Why is this here, in the middle of volume two? It’s a new book, but this is a very deep introduction compared to anything previous books have had. This is intriguing…

    Current score: 3
    • Hollowgolem says:

      This semester feels like a reset button of sorts. Since it’s not a year, it’s not going to be a new book, but it’s where AE wants to restart things.

      It’s a bit jarring, but it’s probably necessary given AE’s plans.

      Current score: 3
      • Rafinius says:

        Hmm. This is the second restart of the kind. At least this one didn’t also have a huge time jump attached. I just hope that most of the previous plot lines are still in as full a process as before. Many plot lines became little more than past references after the first restart.

        Current score: 1
  7. Helen Conner says:

    typo alert: “and Probably better” – spurious capital

    “Those who worked in flesh were already on step ahead,” on should be one

    Current score: 0
  8. Arancaytar says:

    well, three very precisely timed knocks…

    “Come in, Two,” I said.

    “It’s me,” she said. “Two.”

    *knock* *knock* *knock* Mack.
    *knock* *knock* *knock* Mack.
    *knock* *knock* *knock* Mack.

    Current score: 5
    • NekoLeila says:

      *knock* *knock* *knock* Sheldon.
      *knock* *knock* *knock* Sheldon.
      *knock* *knock* *knock* Sheldon.

      Current score: 0
  9. Zathras IX says:

    Out of sight but not
    Out of mind, you can’t touch this—
    It’s Hammerspace Time!

    Current score: 8
  10. PrometheanSky says:

    Before he did that, though, he’d carved three runes into her forehead, the one constant, outward sign that she was anything other than a golem.

    Shouldn’t that be: “anything other than a human”

    I hope there’s more Two in coming chapters, we haven’t seen enough of her lately.

    Current score: 0