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Friday, November 18, 2011

Test of Metal - The Metal Island: Truth and Dare

Test of Metal is the third of the Planeswalker Novels. All I know is that Tezzeret is the main character, and I've liked what I've seen of him in both Agents of Artifice and Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn. (He was nearly the only good thing in the latter.) Time to dive on in.

The Metal Island: Truth and Dare

On a world covered in ocean, lies a small island. An island of metal. I looks similar to silver, but can be forged into tools stronger than steel or diamond. The island has boulders, and grass, and trees, and algae down by the tide pools, but all of it is metal. The same metal known as etherium. And etherium is magic.

The energies bound into etherium transcend mana as lightning transcends a lightning bug. Etherium is an expression of reality itself. Its power is the power of existence. It can be worked with, transformed, shaped into useful structures, but its power cannot be exhausted, and its substance cannot be unmade.

All of the etherium in existence, on any plane or flavor of reality, had been created by one crazed being - known even to his admirers as Crucius the Mad - in an insane attempt to heal the wounds of broken worlds. One day Crucius had a moment of clarity, and in that moment of clarity he understood what he had done...

And he vanished. Forever.

On this island is a man. He kneels before a giant statue of Metal Sphinx that is larger than any house. He's been kneeling here for so long, ignoring the vast amount of etherium around him. It is the rarest substance in all the multiverse, and yet what he does is contemplate a riddle. He's been in contemplation for so long, that any normal man would have starved to death, would have had his flesh rotted away, and would have had his bones bleached by the sun. But he's no ordinary man.

(Seriously? A man with an obsession for etherium. I assume this is Tezzeret. Has he literally been here for that long? I thought he's been captured and now an agent of Nicol Bolas.)

The riddle in question is written upon the plinth the Metal Sphinx rests upon.


He knows it's not about just getting the right answer. Words can be spoken without understanding. For this to work he has to fully believe in the right answer.

The answer seems to simple to him, but he's ready.

The man runs his fingers through his partially greying hair, and pulls out a crystal needle that faintly glows red. He balls up his right hand until veins bulge out. When he inserts the needle into one of those veins. He knew there would be much more pain than a mere pinprick, so he isn't surprised to watch his hand go up in flames and turned into a charred black mess.

(Wait... he has a flesh and blood right arm? Maybe it's not Tezzeret... or is this how Tezzeret gets his etherium arm?)

The man concentrates and reaches out with his arm, and instead of fully extending before him, his arm disappears as he reaches into the space between plane, the Blind Eternities itself. He takes his time and tries to sense everything he can with his hand that is who knows where. When he determines enough time has passed for his experiment to be complete, he pulls his hand back out.

It's still a charred mess, but he knew that would be a possibility. The man pulls another crystal needle from his hair and inserts it into the same place as before, and his hand begins to heal.

The last place to close was the back of his hand, where the skin had been altogether missing. Here, just before pink skin covered it altogether, there could be seen - just along one metacarpal and a fractional length of vein - a tiny glint of metal, like burnished pewter... or, of course, etherium, for that was what it was.

He thanks the statue, and wait. His bait has been cast, and now it's only a matter of time. It turns out the wait isn't long. A hole is torn in reality, and a dragon appears. Nicol Bolas .

The dragon sees the man and instantly pins him to the ground with one of his talons.

"Bolas." The man did not show the slightest discomfort. "Took your time, didn't you?"

"Oh, very funny. Took my time." The dragon's voice was compounded of thunder and landslide. Even spoken out of the side of its mouth, each word might have been crushed from a granite mountain. "You have a refined sense of humor, for a dead man."

"I'm surprised you even realized it was a joke."

(More on this later.)

(Oh, and we got confirmation that the man, is in fact Tezzeret.)

Nicol Bolas bites down on the unknown man within his jaws. He bites down and says that is a demonstration to Tezzeret about what he thinks of his so-called joke.

Tezzeret asks if that happened to be Jace Beleren , but Bolas tells him he's sorry to disappoint him that it wasn't Jace. However, he has killed Tezzeret's clockworker, Silas Renn. Tezzeret takes the news in stride and thanks Nicol Bolas because he was thinking of killing him anyway.

(Okay, so this is taking place after Agents of Artifice for sure, if they're talking about Jace that way.)

Nicol Bolas demands to know if this is where he's been hiding all along. When Tezzeret nods the Metal Sphinx, Nicol Bolas is offended at the thought that Tezzeret thinks he can be bought with treasure, when it was a task he was sent to complete.

Tezzeret tells him it's not a bribe. In fact they can't take any of it with them. Nicol Bolas frowns at the thought of such an enormous fortune going to waste.

"So..." Bolas again bent his neck to bring his jaws within biting distance of Tezzeret's face. "You know where he is."

"I know everywhere he isn't."

"Close enough. Tell me."

"That's a long story, even for you."

"What, is he dead?"

Tezzeret cocked his head as though this question had only now occurred to him. "It would be most accurate to say that he’s not yet alive."

Nicol Bolas doesn't feel like playing games, and tells Tezzeret that he can just take the secret from his mind if necessary. Tezzeret then tells him that there is no secret. He refuses to accept any of the choices that Nicol Bolas has offered him, and he tells the dragon that he may not have even a fraction of his power, but that only means he's been forced to relies on his intellect in a way that Bolas has never had to.

Nicol Bolas is infuriated at being called stupid and binds Tezzeret in a spell. The artificer once again insists that the secret is that there is no secret. The dragon has a fleeting thought that it would be nice to have Jace Beleren under his employ, so tasks such as this wouldn't need to be done personally. Nicol Bolas sighs and then dives right on in to Tezzeret's memories, beginning from the moment he woke up.

* * *

Ha ha ha... I don't get it.

Just like Tezzeret's feelings about his answer to the riddle... was Tezzeret's joke really that simple? That he was complaining that Nicol Bolas took so long to find him, even though he instantly came as soon as he did that experiment with the crystal needles?

Keep in mind that the line was placed before we knew anything about Nicol Bolas thinking that Tezzeret's been hiding and about how some mystery person that Nicol Bolas wants dead, is in fact not yet alive.

Nicol Bolas' emphasis on the word "time" didn't help matters either.

If that was supposed to be funny, or was supposed to show how witty Tezzeret can be even in the face of one of the most powerful beings in the multiverse... it went over my head.

Nicol Bolas and Personality

Where is the majestic Nicol Bolas that I love and fear? He isn't just some dumb brute that always sighs "woe is me" kinds of sighs when he has to do work himself. There's a bit too much whining in this version of Nicol Bolas for my taste. But maybe it'll be explained better as we travel through memory lane and find out how the two got to this point.

1 comment:

  1. This story isn't told in chronological order, and there's a lot of stuff here that doesn't make sense until you know what happened. So, don't worry, you're not supposed to get the joke yet, and the Nicol Bolas thing...that comes up later, too. There's a LOT in this book that's confusing at first, but brilliant on the second reading; it's definitely a deliberate stylistic choice that Matt Stover is making with this book, so make of that what you will.

    Incidentally, Silas Renn was in the Seeker's Fall webcomic, if you didn't recognize him here. I didn't figure that out until after I'd read the book and I was like, "Oh, hey, it's that guy!"