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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Test of Metal - Baltrice: This Old Man



Finally we get some answers!


Baltrice: This Old Man

The whole place stank.

No wonder Tezzeret never talked about where he was from. This Tidehollow of his smelled like dead fish and ass. And not in a good way.

While the largest building in the area, Tezzeret's father's house was still only made of mud bricks, broken stone, and was filled with only some fish oil lamps and dried seaweed for a bed.

One of the hired hands, Posner, approaches Baltrice, and tells her that he doesn't think the old man is going to reveal anything, that he hasn't seen his kid in twelve years and that he believes him. Baltrice doesn't care. She doesn't pay him to think. He's to continue until she says stop.

As for the other talent she managed to hire in this place, it appeared that he manages to find some pliers and had attempted to apply a Wojek manicure to Tezzeret's father. Baltrice quickly kicks Nozzle before he can do any further damage.

Nozzle’s opinion on the subject—which he delivered sprawled on the dirt floor—started with “What the,” included a “you” or three, and indelicately named some of my delicate parts before going on to suggestions that might have made me blush if I hadn’t done everything on his list at least twice, not to mention a couple already this morning.

The fire mage asks Posner  what's wrong with this picture and asks why is she about to deep-fry his partner. When he stammers that he's not sure, she reminds him who this man's son is, and let's him know in no uncertain terms that they're not the two people who maimed Tezeret's father. Unless he doesn't survive the shock and in that case they're the two people that have tortured him to death.

(My question is... is there really a difference as to how Tezzeret would treat someone who just beat information out of his father versus maimed him versus killed him? They already agreed to do the beating, so it seems they're in it all the way already.)

Baltrice commands for one of them to go get some kind of first aid supplies, and tells them that from now on they'll do exactly what she says. No more, no less.

Blatrice had his shackles taken off, had his wounds bandaged up, and had them bring him a cup of water. The water he refused, but when Baltrice offered him alcohol from her own flask, he snatched that right up.

Baltrice tells him that she thinks she believes him, but she heads outside after leaving instructions with the help that they're to make sure they see to it that the old man doesn't get "bored."

Outside? Yeah, tell me another. Outside is where you can see sky. Not here. Nothing to see here except rock, seawater, and poor stupid bastards without enough brains to know their lives suck.

Being poor sucks. I know it sucks. I don’t need to be reminded.

Baltrice thinks to herself that Jace should have let her handle this her way in the first place, and wishes she could have witnessed Tezzeret running naked through the streets in the middle of his hometown. Baltrice herself talks a walk through the neighborhood, trying to walk the line between trying to bait him out of hiding if he's watching for them, without making it look too obvious.

Nothing happened. Oh well. At least they're as prepared as they can be.

Say what you want about the Conflux and this Planes War going on all over Alara; one thing it’s good for is turning out bucketloads of combat-trained mages. I had eight of them in camouflaged blinds in a double-diamond setup, where at least two had eyeballs on every approach, and each of the eight was in sight of at least two of his mates. And I had another six of the local skull bangers primed and ready to tangle with anything on two legs, because you never know when you might need somebody to do something stupid.

On top of that, Baltrice herself is equipped with four of Jace's summoning stones equipped with all kinds of nasty creatures.

Baltrice pulls out and activates a little doll, otherwise known as a Jaceqin. The doll shimmers and speaks in a voice so high pitched that it would usually have her giggling, but now is not the time. Baltrice reports that she doesn't think Tezeret is coming, and expresses some doubts that maybe it wasn't Tezzeret at all that sprung the trap, considering that all the reports leave out any mention of a man with an etherium arm. That's something they would notice.

Jace tells her it had to be him, but she offers up explanations as to how Tezzeret might have worked around the trap. Perhaps he knew there was a trap and sent someone in his place to trigger it.

“The thing about Tezzeret is that you can’t outthink him. It’s useless to try and guess what he might do, because he can figure what you think he’ll do based on what you know about him … and then he’ll do something else.”

(More on this later.)

So what's their plan? Baltrice tells him that Tezzeret's father is a tough old man, to the point that despite all they've done to him, he still haven't even told them his name.

(And how does being good at withholding basic information that they already know make it believable that he doesn't know where his son is?)

Jace tells her that if Tezzeret is out there watching them, there is only one last thing he could be waiting for before showing himself. Baltrice isn't so sure that's such a good idea, but Jace doesn't see any other option. And together, along with all their hired hands, they should be able to handle him.

Baltrice walks back into the house and tells Posner and Nozzle the draw their weapons. If Tezzeret is going to attack, it's going to be pretty much now. A rush of air blows by, and Jace appears.

(More on this later.)

Jace notices the druken state of the old man, and Baltrice sarcastically replies that nothing gets past him does it?

He flashed me that quick and easy grin of his. “Well, if it does, I’ve got you for a backstop, right?”

I gave him a sidelong squint. “Is that a fat joke?”

“Nah, I’m a fat joke,” he deadpanned. “That was a tall joke.”

“Next time use a ladder. And somebody else’s sense of humor. And you’re not fat. Just soft enough to be cuddly.”

(I guess he let himself go after grabbing the reins of one of the most powerful interplanar organizations in the multiverse.)

Baltrice reflects on Jace's easy way about him, and how that makes him a much more effective leader than Tezzeret ever was. All Tezzeret ever wanted was obedience, but Jace makes sure his people are happy. In fact, Jace is a better person all around, and the multiverse is a better place with him in charge of the Consortium. When she was left for dead after the duel with Liliana Vess, Jace found her, and rather than end her life and eliminate an enemy, he decided to have her headled up and offer her a job. She knows every breath she takes she owes to Jace.

(OOooooohhhh!! So that's how he was able to get the information to gain control of the organization, despite how Agents of Artifice ended. It's not a complete, brute force retcon of the ending of the other book.)

Jace takes a look around, and Batrice continues to express doubts that Tezzeret will show up, but Jace insists that she doesn't know him like he does.

“Look, I got into his brain. I found every scrap of memory and personality and power and everything else that made him the man he was, and I ripped it out of him and threw it away. Tried to throw it away. I thought I could purge all that stuff. Just bundle it up and let it dribble out my ears or whatever. But it’s not that simple. There’s a reason I haven’t done a mind kill since.”

(Oh... wait... looks like he didn't even need Baltrice to get that information. Is that better or worse?)

Jace explains that Tezzeret will show. He explains that he hates his father with every fiber of his being, but at the same time his father is his, and he will not tolerate to have it messed with.

Baltrice suggests that maybe Jace doesn't know this Tezzeret. That it's clear that someone put him back together, and perhaps they made some adjustments that they're not accounting for. Until they know more about who restored Tezzeret, they're shooting blindly in the dark.

Jace looked like he was really seeing me for the first time. “Tezzeret never mentioned how smart you are.”

(More on this later.)

Jace steps up and takes a close look at Tezzeret's father, and sense something odd. He dives into his mind and it feels like there's not enough of him in there.

Baltrice throws up her shields and Jace does the same. Jace tells her to be ready, but Baltrice is on the edge of panic. Tezzeret got here first. She orders for Posner and Nozzle to kill the old man before Jace has time to object. Before they could get to him, the old man quickly rolls away and spreads his arms wide, and two bolts shoot out from the two tiny crossbows in his hands. Posner is skewered right through the chest while Nozzle simple explodes.

The old man then pulls a wooden leg off the nearby table and throws it like a spear at Jace's chest. Baltrice quickly incinerates it, but while the heat burned away the wood, it didn't burn away what was inside.

It hit Jace in the chest and sprouted little jointed legs and knives and drills, and it grabbed on to him and started digging through his shields like they were made of grape jam, and right about the time I realized it was made of the same stuff as Tezzeret’s metal arm and that I didn’t have a goddamn clue how to stop it without killing Jace myself, Jace started to scream.

Saving Jace is beyond her means, so all she can resort to is getting revenge. Baltrice summons as much fire as she can and condenses it into a small sun between her hands. When she turns to face the old man, he's old no longer. He tells her to go outside and tell all the hirelings to leave and he'll tell her how she can save Jace.

“Hello, Baltrice,” Tezzeret said. “I’ve missed you, too.”

* * *


Concept and Execution

Let's start off with a compliment. I love the concept of this chapter. I love that we finally get the answers that were needed that help to resolve the confusion as to how any of these events in this book can be happening when the end of Agents of Artifice seemed to end with Jace taking the higher road and giving up on the idea of controlling the Infinite Consortium and ended with Baltrice's apparent death. I also love the concept of Tezzeret posing as his father, allowing himself to get tortured, and then springing his trap.

(Although what would have happened had Baltrice decided to heal up his wounds while still leaving the shackles on?)

I thought this chapter ended well, but I have issues with its execution.


Baltrice and Tezzeret

Okay, we get it. Baltrice thinks that Tezzeret cannot be stopped and that no one can out think him (all the while working with Jace to stop him by trying to out think him.) She has a loyalty to Jace that she never had for Tezzeret, and sometimes that can override what you "know" to be true.

My problem isn't her reaction, but that her speech and warning to Jace is way too spot on. It's about Show not Tell. Stover has been showing us through Tezzeret's perspective that he can't think of everything, that he has flaws and fears and makes mistakes, yet he keeps on trying to tell us that that's not the case. The two things don't mesh well, and it's quite off putting to have to read that, especially when it has to be repeated several times in the course of this one chapter.


Teleportation

So Jace can teleport and he's getting better and better at it every day through practice. (As stated in the book, although I skimmed over that part up above.)

That makes me sad.

A great part of how Marmell set up the rules to planeswalking in Agents of Artifice are the limitations he set. The planeswalkers can't do it with very good accuracy without being extremely familiar with a place. So maybe Jace has picked up actual teleportation and didn't planeswalk his way into the scene, which will work with the logic and rules of this fictional universe, but that only brings up the complication of why isn't Jace just teleporting away from danger each and every time. He didn't have to stand there and take the hit.

Maybe since he's still practicing it, he couldn't have dodged Tezzeret's attack if he tried which is fine for this instance, but in the future as he gets more and more proficient at it that will become less viable of an excuse. This set up here in this book is going to make it harder to write future Jace stories.

Beware the master of teleportation and telepathy.


Dialogue and Cursing

I'm not fond of the dialogue in this book. It's just Stover's style and I'm going to have to live with it, but there is a particular instance in this chapter that stands out above all others. The following is Nozzle's reaction as Baltrice kicks him to keep him from pulling off more fingernails from "Tezzeret's father," something already quoted above:

Nozzle’s opinion on the subject—which he delivered sprawled on the dirt floor—started with “What the,” included a “you” or three, and indelicately named some of my delicate parts before going on to suggestions that might have made me blush if I hadn’t done everything on his list at least twice, not to mention a couple already this morning.


This is followed up with:

I looked at Nozzle. “So. What was it you said should have improbable varieties of sex with unlikely parts of my anatomy?”

Stover is trying too hard to insert curse words into the story without writing it straight out and that makes it quite distracting. Even worse is the follow up which is probably the most confusing sentence in the whole book so far. So confusing that I literally had to stop reading the book to puzzle out what she just said, which only helped to ruin the pacing of a chapter whose pacing I wasn't fond of to begin with.

(For the sake of keeping this site clean, I won't be directly translating what she heard and was trying to say either.)


Pacing

Speaking of pacing, this chapter ended well, but I wish it ended. There is quite a lot of repetition that could easily have been taken out without losing the essence of this chapter.

At least because of this ending, I am curious to see what happens next, so let's just move on.


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