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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Test of Metal - Jace Beleren: Friends Like These

Jace at the mercy of Tezzeret.

Jace Beleren: Friends Like These

I woke up coughing. My throat felt like I’d been trying to dry swallow barbed wire. Probably screaming when I passed out. I couldn’t remember. The taste of vomit made my stomach heave, but all that came from my mouth was half-clotted blood.

The strong hands cradling me I would have known anywhere. That helped pull me together. As long as Baltrice was with me, whatever this was couldn’t be too bad.

Could it?

The answer is yes. Baltrice tells Jace that he's in trouble and that he shouldn't attempt any magic. That will only make things worse. But it isn't Jace's choice as to how he responds. When he turns his head to see Tezzeret standing over him and smiling, Jace's shields snap into place.

This time, I remember screaming.

...After Jace regains a semblance of composure...

Tezzeret wasn't even watching him by the time he let go of the magic and the convulsions stopped. Jace knows there is nothing he can do but wait to die by Tezzeret's hands. But while Tezzeret seems more occupied by cutting off the bandages on his hands, he takes the time to ask Baltrice if she's alright, she can still run. But while Baltrice tells him that the fight was over before it was barely begun, and there's barely a scratch on her, there is no way she is going to leave him to die. They stay or leave together.

That damned spell—of course she wouldn’t leave me. She couldn’t. And it was my fault.

(Okay. There we go. That makes more sense. Jace altered her mind to have her join his side. That fits much better considering how much she disliked in the other book.)

It would only take five seconds for Jace to remove the spell, but when he tries, the agony is just too much and he can't do it. He knows he's a dead man, and it seems he can't even do anything to keep her alive either.

Jace's moan catches Tezzeret's attention.

“Beleren. I have never verified how much pain a human nervous system can endure without permanent damage. Nor do I know whether a person can be killed by pain alone—if you can ‘hurt to death,’ as it were. If you try something as extreme as planeswalking, we likely will find out.”

After some sarcastic banter, Tezzeret lets Jace know that while it was his own body disguised as his own father, it really was his father's mind that Jace was sensing. A trick he modeled after what Jace himself had pulled off before.

(Is "inspired by" supposed to cover up the fact that a mind swap is not the same as this camouflage trick that Tezzeret pulled off here?)

“Have I told you lately that you scare the crap out of me?”

(So much more on all the dialogue later.)

The conversation pauses as Tezzeret walks over to the one living mercenary left in the room, cuts off his hand, and performs a spell to use it to heal his own back to perfect health. Tezzeret tosses the dead hand back on the now dead mercenary, and explains to Jace that he picked up a bit of necromancy when he was a teenager.

(Strange placement here... I'm guessing this necro-healing will pop up again later on in the story.)

With Baltrice's help, Jace is at least able to get up to sitting position, and he tells Tezzeret that he would often have nightmares that Tezzeret was still alive even though he knew he was dead. Tezzeret tells him that he'd often have those same dreams, except in his own dreams, he would always catch Jace.

Jace then tells Tezzeret that Baltrice was fiercely loyal to him, and she suffered a lot at the hands of Liliana before she finally lost. He knows that he's a dead man, but he asks that he doesn't punish her too harshly now that her loyalty has transferred to himself.

Tezzeret corrects him though. He says that killing Jace is quite an inelegant solution to their problem. And besides, how does it make any sense to kill Jace in retaliation for his own murder when he's obviously quite alive.

(!@#$ What do you mean how does that make any sense? How does it make any sense that murder of yourself is the only reason to seek revenge against someone! No one would ever be alive to seek revenge if that was the case!

(And one top of the attempted murder, he also stole your organization, mind altered your second in command, and left you in the position to be under the beck and call of Nicol Bolas! How could anyone think that's a reasonable argument!)

That doesn't quite make sense to Jace, but Tezzeret tells him that they have a shared enemy, and besides, if Tezzeret kills Jace, that only eliminates the only reason why Baltrice is holding back from giving her all to end his own life here and now.

And one last thing. He's a different man than before his "death." Tezzeret turns to Baltrice and offers an apology.

“I am not the man who cut you with the mana knife, Baltrice. I am not the man who ordered you into that last battle. Whether I am a better man, or a worse one, is not yet determined. Meanwhile, I am truly sorry for what I—the man I was then—did to you.”

Naturally a simply apology isn't enough and she won't forgive him that easily, and Tezzeret's only reply is that an apology is all he can offer, it is up to her to decide how to take it.

“I got a decision you can face in the seat of my pants.”

But enough off all these pleasantries and apologies. It's time to get down to business. Tezzeret explains that the device that's attached to him is made of a metal called etherium. The same substance that used to make up the metal arm he no longer has.

“The salient feature of etherium is that it doesn’t wholly exist in this universe. Or in any. In ways that can’t be precisely explained in words, etherium simultaneously exists in the Blind Eternities; it is an alloy of æther itself. Etherium, in a very real sense, has a, oh, I suppose you’d say, an inanimate version of a Planeswalker’s Spark.

He will fail if he attempts to remove the device, and the attempt may kill him. If he tries to planeswalk, that will be much, much worse and there is no doubt that will end in his death. Only a planeswalker has the ability to manipulate etherium in the necessary way to deactivate it, so that limits his ability to seek out help. And in Tezzeret's opinion, there is only one other person in existence that has a greater ability at manipulating etherium than himself. The very creator of etherium, Crucius the Mad Sphinx.

His freedom depends on Tezzeret's own survival. While he wishes no ill will towards Jace, he will not release him either until after he accomplishes a specific, and dangerous task that he doesn't expect to survive. Should that happen, with no way for Jace to disarm the trap, his likely end will be that of insanity or death.

One correction though. Tezzeret doesn't expect to survive... unless he has Baltrice's help. Baltrice yells and protests, but Jace is able to convince her that it's for the best and Tezzeret continues.

He explains that he, himself, has a device implanted in him very similar to the one inside Jace. And while the task he's being compelled to accomplish is to track down the missing creator of etherium, Tezzeret's solution to his own plight is to kill Nicol Bolas.

It was a good thing I was already sitting down. I could only stare. Baltrice spluttered like a balky skyrocket. “You … you what? Are you completely frappin’ cracked?”

“Very likely. But cracked or not, the fact remains,” he said. “I am going to kill Nicol Bolas.”

“Oh, sure,” I said when I found my voice. “And while you’re off burning down three-quarters of the Multiverse, I’m supposed to sit here in Vectis with my thumb up my butt?”

“Not at all. You,” said Tezzeret with that eerie calm that was starting to look more and more like crazy every time I saw it, “are going to look after my father.”

* * *

Dialogue - Word Choice

1) The plot of this story is pretty interesting, but it was very hard to wade through the dialogue in this chapter. Here's one little bit after Jace speaks his first words to Tezzeret.

“What did you do to me?”

This earned me another look. It was as cold as his voice. “I let you live.”

“Am I supposed to thank you?”

Boss,” Baltrice hissed. “For the love of crap, don’t antagonize him!”

So Jace has a sarcastic reply to Tezzeret. That seems off to me, but he's near death so maybe that works. The bigger problem I have here is Baltrice's response. In the Baltrice chapter, we had Stover doing everything he could do to avoid writing curse words by using the most flowery selection of words possible with all his "improbable ways of sex" and "he spoke words that addressed parts of my anatomy" or however he wrote it exactly. Here we have have him take a different route and instead use a mild, more acceptable term in the word "crap." This provides an inconsistency that is a bit jarring, especially because it's coming from the same character. The problem is only made worse because in this instance Stover could have used a whole wide array of words that would complete the phrase "For the love of ____" and have it make perfect sense.

2) At then end of the chapter we then have Baltrice yell out the word "frappin'," which at least keeps her consistent within this chapter as using mild alternatives to the big "no-no" words that people take offense to, but that doesn't eliminate the fact that in her previous chapter it very strongly implied that the F-word is in full use in this world. She's supposed to be this ultimate pyromancer that would be a force for anyone to fight toe-to-toe against, and in this moment she more concerned about saving her life more than her own... and yet she's still worried about having a potty mouth.

It could be explained that Jace programed that in her, just like he programmed her loyalty, but we all know that isn't the case.

3) One last thing.

“I got a decision you can face in the seat of my pants.”

Making her talk like that just makes her sound like a little kid.

Dialogue - Tone

Jace switches from being defiantly sarcastic, to being brutally honest about Tezzeret scaring the crap out of him and about the nightmares he had, to switching back to being sarcastic, all the while

Tezzeret constantly has an insincere humbleness about him as he apologizes for Jace's ideas, switches to sincere apologies when he talks to Baltrice, while weaving "I am the smartest one here" and d a more straightforward lecturer type tone, on top of sprinkling in some occasional flashes of "Don't defy me I'm the one with the upper hand here."

This constant switching of tone by both characters makes the chapter feel like one big sloppy mess. The only consistency in tone comes from Baltrice. While it seems odd that she would even resist the only chance to save Jace's life unless Jace convinces her otherwise (Because she refuses to work with Tezzeret thanks to direct or indirect programming) is consistent.

(Keep in mind that all three people are in the conversation together, and that Tezzeret is trying to convince both of them about his sincerity so they can all work together against Bolas, so the fact that Tezzeret seems sincere to one and insincere towards the other doesn't work well here, whereas might be okay in other circumstances.)

On the other hand, the constant mood switching of both Jace and Tezzeret lacks any believable transition from paragraph to paragraph and it all just feels like one big a sloppy mess.

Plot - Tezzeret's Solution

Let me close with something positive. I want to once again repeat that I like the overall plot of what's going on. Tezzeret has Jace at his mercy, and despite everything that Jace has taken away from him, Tezzeret is thinking ahead and is willing to let Jace live (Ror the moment at least. I don't quite buy how sincere he is) in order to gain Baltrice's help in an attempt to slay the great dragon Nicol Bolas.

That's a pretty nice plan, but what makes it extra special is that we have to remember that there are Jace's memories that Nicol Bolas himself is witnessing. I'm assuming Tezzeret wanted Nicol Bolas to witness first hand that their plan is to kill him, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that factors into the plan.

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