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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Test of Metal - The Metal Island: Life and Times

Nicol Bolas wins?

The Metal Island: Life and Times

Bolas has heard enough of this story, and it is time to interrupt. He tells Tezzeret straight to his face what a pathetic creature he is. That he is so egotistical it is astounding. Every single part of his story has to be about himself. How Silas Renn is waiting in the Labyrinth to ambush him. How the Labyrinth itself was created for him alone to find.

“You did understand, even back there, that for your theory to be accurate, Crucius would have had to anticipate not only your brains getting scrambled by Beleren—all right, to be fair, anyone who knows the two of you saw that one coming—but he would have had to somehow make me glue your pieces back together and strong-arm you into looking for him in the first place.”

“When you put it that way, it does seem unlikely,” Tezzeret said mildly. “And yet, here I am.”

(More on this later.)

Tezzeret tells Bolas that he's more than welcome to ask Crucius himself if it was all planned that way, as soon as Sharuum departs.

On cue, the Grand Hegemon tells Tezzeret that she and Crucius are finished. And since he held up his end of the bargain, everything that she posses is his. All her wealth, power, position, plane, and even herself. Tezzeret graciously accepts, and tells her that it is time she return to Esper. When she tells him she was hoping to stay here on this metal island, he tells her that's not to be.

“You cannot,” Tezzeret said. “You have given yourself to me, per our bargain, and this is my will: that you return to Esper and rule as you always have, that you place your great wisdom in service to our land and all who call it home, and that you treat all of my possessions as your own.”

In the shocked silence that follows, he does add with a smile that should he change his mind, he'll let her know. He lets her know he would have one other thing, that she consider him her friend, and he tells her the sad news that the etherium he infused with her body cannot leave this place, and he draws it from her before sending her back with the message that she give his regards to her son.

(Son? Who's that?)

And with that over with, Tezzeret address Nicol Bolas and tells him he's free to leave, however he was hoping that he'd be interested in staying a bit longer. Nicol Bolas continues on in an aggressive way, contrasting very much with the cowering when Tezzeret revealed he had absolute control over the entire plane, and he tells the artificer that his tale is nearly quite over.

Bolas is done playing games, but with a simple frown on Tezzeret's face, clouds gather up above and lightning streaks the sky.

“Do we need to have this conversation all over again?”

The dragon bared his fangs. “Want to see a trick?”


“One little trick. You’ll love it. I promise.”

“Watch mine instead.” Tezzeret made a fist, and from the sand shot upward girders of etherium thicker than a man’s chest that in an instant had curled around the dragon and braided themselves into an impenetrable cage that flared with every color of power. “Don’t try to draw mana, and don’t touch the bars. I tell you this for your own protection.”

The dragon shrugged carelessly. “You showed me yours. Let me show you mine.”

“Save it.”
“But it’s a really good trick. Here, watch,” Bolas said, and vanished.

Completely vanished. Tezzeret closes the bars of etherium's metal cage upon just the air. Bolas' prints have disappeared from the sand, and no magic at Tezzeret's command could detect his presence.

(Was Bolas just an illusion? Thanks to Doctor Jest perhaps? We've still never witnessed Doctor Jest in these "Metal Island" chapters and don't know what's become of him.)

Tezzeret looks towards Baltrice and Jace and the Web of Restraint that bound them is gone. They get up and ask what's going on. Tezzeret encases himself in etherium armor and tells her to get ready to fight. Baltrice suggests that maybe would be a good time for Tezzeret to remove the device in Jace's head, but Bolas materializes before Tezzeret can respond.

The dragon reared, forelimbs and wings spreading wide, and brutally intense flame rained down upon the artificer. Baltrice barely managed to raise shields around her and Jace. From what she could see, Tezzeret’s armor seemed to be working just fine. He didn’t appear to notice the hellfire raging around him. He made a quick motion of his right fist, as though delivering a punch to an invisible opponent.

And the dragon exploded.

Baltrice cannot believe her eyes.

And well she shoudn't. Right atop of Bolas' remains... Bolas reappears. He unleashes a blast that flings Tezzeret down the beach. Nicol Bolas's blast is so hot that the etherium sand liquefies. Encased in his armor, Tezzeret shoots out of the molten etherium into the air. He presses down with his arms, and an invisible force pushes Bolas' head into liquid metal and his head instantly turns to ash.

Jace speaks up and says that's something's wrong. The dragon... no... the dragons... they're not Nicol Bolas, not really. He's been in Bolas' mind before, he knows.

Baltrice picks up on the fact that Jace is able to do his thing without intense pain knocking him unconscious. Who cares what the dragons are. He's free. It's time to go and leave Tezzeret to his fate.

Two dragons appear and attack Tezzeret at the same time. Then four, then eight.

Jace realizes what's going on. They're not dragon illusions. They're dead. Zombies.

Baltrice curses the name of Liliana Vess.

(I know I was assuming that Liliana was going to appear... but why is it that Baltrice thinks she's involved? It Nicol Bolas, the dragon who made his home in Grixis for who knows how long and is feared for being the most powerful planeswalker there is... is he incapable of pulling this off himself?)

Jace wonders outloud what Ms. Vess would be doing here, but at the same time he casts some kind of seeking spell, and a white light shoots from him hand and makes its way around to the other side of the metal sphinx.

Out from where the white mana had vanished stepped Liliana Vess, her lustrous raven hair falling in curls around her flawless face. Her dancer’s lithe grace was not in evidence, however; she moved jerkily, resisting every step, a broken marionette dragged forward by white fire that wreathed her arms and legs and chest.

“Jace …” she said softly, her eyes glistening with welling tears. “Jace, I didn’t know it’d be you. You have to believe me. I’m sorry—I’m so sorry!”

“I’m not,” Baltrice said, and blasted her with a flame bolt so powerful that the beautiful necromancer was instantly burned down to her bones. “Go zombie that, bitch.”

“Baltrice!” Jace gasped. “Baltrice, what have you done?”
“No more screwing around, Jace,” Baltrice growled. “Are we leaving, or am I going alone?”

Even as Liliana's body is still skidding across the ground, they hear her voice speak up from behind them. Then two more appear. She tells him to just give up, there will be as many of her as needed and he cannot win.

Jace whisper's to Baltrice and asks how Liliana can be doing this, and the answer comes to the fire mage. She can't do it alone. She needs the help of a clockworker.

On cue, Nicol Bolas reappears. Not a zombie Bolas, but the real thing.

Baltrice unleashes her magic, but it doesn't even phase him. On the other hand Nicol Bolas reaches out and breaks through all her shields with ease and knocks her unconscious.

Jace takes that moment to dive into Bolas' mind in an attempt to erase all memories of himself and Baltrice so they can make their escape, but he comes across something that takes him aback. Nicol Bolas asks him what it is that he found, but before Jace can reply, blue smoke spears Jace in the head, and his mind utterly disappears.

Bolas snarled and twisted around—but Tezzeret was still battling the corpse dragons. Someone else must have done this. Or was doing it. Or was going to do it shortly. Or something. Even when he could do it himself, clockworking didn’t actually get easier to think logically about.

Bolas orders the Lilianas to finish off Tezzeret, but to keep him alive. As for himself, he picks up Baltrice and the body of Jace Beleren and tucks them away in an alternate time line where Tezzeret never reached the metal island.

(More on this later.)

“I really should have learned this stuff a long time ago,” he said to himself. He decided not to think about Tezzeret’s suggestion that he’d learned clockworking centuries or even millennia before, and had simply forgotten. He remembered well enough being a functionally omnipotent master of time and space, back before the Final Mending, but those powers were far beyond him now. Clockworking was a different approach to almost the same thing, and was gratifyingly easy, for a being of his intellect and power.

If he ever figured out how, he might just slide over to a temporal main line where the Final Mending never happened. If he could find one, anyway. When first he’d searched for a main line where his power was undiminished, he’d discovered there weren’t any—which might indicate that the rabble of meddling Planeswalkers who’d forced the Final Mending down Dominia’s throat had been right all along. Bolas was gracious enough to grant them the possibility. It was easy to be generous, considering their Final Mending had killed them all.

An explosion and a shower of dragon flesh snaps Nicol Bolas back to the task at hand, and he scolds himself for letting his mind wander at a time like this. He knew that Tezzeret was right when claiming that he wasn't the dragon he used to be.

Time to focus, and do some clockworking. Bolas moves away from the metal sphinx, because for a reason he could not determine it fogged up his ability. He then wonders if maybe he shouldn't have killed Crucius a thousand years ago. With clockworking, maybe he still could.

Perhaps that thousand-year-ago moment wasn’t entirely out of his reach—though some of the temporal stranding involved would be tricky. He might just be jumping himself into a different preexisting main line, or creating a new one, and he wasn’t entirely sure how he would know the difference—or if there even was a difference. And he wasn’t really sure whether or not jumping back to waste Crucius might be a good idea, or if he’d be correcting a mistake he already hadn’t made … and then the specter of the Final Mending hung over his past, too.

(*shakes head at the idea of clockworking*)

The body of one of the Lilianas hits him in the face, bringing his attention back to the present one more time. Bolas sends his mind through the various strands of time, only to find two or three more instances where he loses to Tezzeret. Only two or three more dragon bodies to pull into this time line to use against him. Except...

Where there used to be multiple Lilianas to animate those bodies, there is now only one left. Tezzeret recognized that the Lilianas were the weak link in the plan. With no necromancers to animate the dead dragons his fight was nearly won.

But no matter how smart Tezzeret is, Nicol Bolas is smarter. When it comes down to it, he's only human and can only focus on one thing at a time. Nicol Bolas however...

Due to their saurian ancestry, most dragons retained great knots of neural ganglia between their wings and at the base of their tails, so large and complex that they were essentially subsidiary brains; the evolutionary adaptation that allowed them to coordinate their subbrains gave many dragons a multitasking capability far beyond any human’s imagination. And Nicol Bolas’s capabilities were beyond the imaginations of dragons.

His mind was a vast and cluttered place, stuffed with twenty-five thousand years of memories, half-forgotten spells, and disordered remnants of dreams and aspirations. Millennia before, he had begun a process of compartmentalizing his mind, setting up an organized mental structure that allowed him to access information he wanted without having to sift through metaphorical mountains of irrelevancies. In the process, he’d split off functions of cognitive processing, virtual minds whose responsibility was the management of each of their particular sectors of knowledge, experience, and skill.

(Too much information. Did we really need to know that?)

Bolas assigns one of his subminds to keep track of Jace and Baltrice as well as to investigate that weird blue magic that mind-wiped him. Another is assigned to dwell on all of Tezzeret's actions that have led up to this point. A third is assigned to the battle at hand. That leaves his primary consciousness to focus solely on stopping Tezzeret.

(Oh. I guess we did. Wonderful... really. *sigh*)

Tezzeret may think he's a master of etherium, second only to Crucius, but that's because his ego won't allow him to think otherwise. There are things that Tezzeret does not know about and cannot do, because he does not have the abilities that Bolas does. The dragon divides his primary consciousness into three more parts, with one working on planeswalking, another to focus on magic, and the third to scan the probability smear to seek out exactly what he is looking for.

As he does this, his submind focused on the battle at hand warns him to not kill Tezzeret.

(Ugh. This gets worse and worse. He's talking to himself now.)

With all three subminds working in concert, Nicol Bolas transforms Tezzeret's etherium breastplate into a blade that spears him through the heart.

The Tezzeret-tasked submind, though, reacted with enough alarm to give Nicol Bolas actual pain.
“I already said I’m not going to kill him!” Bolas snarled. “Shut the hell up.”

(And now he's arguing with himself! Really!?)

The Bolas mind watching the battle puts the remaining Liliana to sleep and places Tezzeret in a state of suspended animation, and Bolas gloats at the unconscious body of the mechanist.

His second submind—that troublesome Tezzeret-tasked one again—inquired silently that if Bolas had never been in danger, why were all those nearby temporal strands loaded with his corpses? Which was a wholly disquieting question, and one he had no intention of pondering.
His primary consciousness reflected that his condition might be more grave than he’d allowed himself to believe. How far must you have deteriorated to have begun to heckle yourself?

(Acknowledging this ridiculousness doesn't make it better.)

Nicol Bolas wins.

He has not just Tezzeret, but Liliana, Jace, and Baltrice in his hands. Just to be certain, he scans all the possible timelines, and in each and everyone of them, they are his prisoners. His prisoners, and with a bit of clockworking, they're now all stored in a different time strand, one in which Tezzeret never made it to this island.

He looks up at the statue of the metal sphinx and denies Tezzeret's claims that this etherium cannot be taken off this plane. Tezzeret certainly believes it, but Bolas is determined to find a way.

With the battle over, Nicol Bolas finally really notices his shadow, and how it hasn't moved at all despite the hours that have passed. Tezzeret did say that here was always now. A messaged deciphered from the glyphs on the nearby plinth.

But wait.

The glyphs are written in the now dead language of Classical Draconic. A language not used in twenty-four thousand years. How had Tezzeret been able to read it? Nicol Bolas turns to ask him, and then realizes that he's no longer in this timeline. Bolas is disgusted with himself for letting his mind slip again. It's just too hard to think around here.

Bolas goes to retrieve him... but... once more something's wrong. It looks like he had placed him in a timeline where Tezzeret made it to the metal island. It's time to fix that...

But there's something else odd. Of all the timelines that he can see, there is only one in which Tezzeret exists.

And now Bolas recalled that earlier, when at Tezzeret’s invitation he had scanned their future—when he had found so many of his own corpses on so many versions of the beach—he had seen nothing of Tezzeret at all. Nothing. Alive or dead or anywhere in between.
How could there be only one of him?

Nicol Bolas decides it is time to leave this place, but when the tries to planeswalk away, he finds himself reappearing on the beach. This must end. Now.

Bolas hops on over to the timeline where the four planeswalkers are left unconscious. His picks up Jace, Liliana, and Baltrice, and flings each of them into random timelines without a care as to where they ended up, or if they would reappear in ordinary reality at all. As for Tezzeret, he encases his body in etherium, and tosses him out into the etherum ocean and watches as he begins to sink to the depths below.

He decides to dive into Tezzeret's mind one last time, and he does so despite the fear in his heart.

* * *

The Various Pieces of Clockworking

Let's start at the beginning of this chapter. Nicol Bolas tells Tezzeret that he's way to self-centered because every part of his story revolves around him. He claims that Tezzeret is claiming that the Labyrinth was meant for him to find and for him to solve. Nicol Bolas states that for that to happen, that means that everything would have to be precisely controlled, including the meeting of Tezzeret and Nicol Bolas, as well as Tezzeret's own defeat at Jace's hands, and Bolas' decision to revive him.

Bolas rejects this as pre-destination nonsense.

It is nonsense, but not for the reasons that Nicol Bolas is saying. He's the clockworker. We're told right from the very beginning that clockworking includes the ability to see possible futures, which allows for the clockworker to pick the one he wants! Cucious did not in anyway have to control anyone's actions. Not Jace, not Tezzeret, and not Nicol Bolas. All he had to do was to look into the future and pick the one that best served his needs!

That's how basic clockworking works!

If Nicol Bolas is implying that their actions had to have been controlled because the ability to see that far into the future would require more power than anyone has, it isn't stated at all, and honestly I don't believe the words mean anything beyond what was stated.

And unfortunately I do have to say basic clockworking because we're showing that clockworking is so much "more".

[Note: Those quotes are filled with sarcasm and disgust.]

So is it quite strongly implied that Crucious time traveled to the past to build the Labyrinth. We learned that last chapter. In this chapter we now find out that alternate timelines are a resource. A clockworker doesn't just see into the near future to be able to pick and choose which one they like, but they're able to pull things out from other timelines.There are "main" lines, as if the clockworker whose POV we're reading is the only real person, and they're able to take their own dead corpses from those other timelines and have them reanimated!?


That's supposed to be awesome? That doesn't make any sense! Why is Nicol Bolas wasting time raiding other timelines for corpses of himself when he could just raid other timelines for the etherium he so desperately wants? Who cares about Crucious! Just clockwork your way into more!

Or if for some reason etherium is an exception, why doesn't he bring in more than just Bolas corpses and Lilianas? Why not add some Maelfegors and Sarkhan Vols and any number of other followers at his disposal? Just overwhelm Tezzeret with numbers if not power.

The more that is revealed about clockworking, the worse and worse it gets. This completely breaks the multiverse. You expect Nicol Bolas to be powerful, but if these powers are used as described (which they won't be. I'm sure the rules will keep on changing, much like how Nicol Bolas forgot how it actually works in the beginning of this chapter) there is no point in making any future stories.

Bolas wins.

In reality though, I'm sure what this chapter was meant to convey is the main point that there are multiple copies of everyone in all the other timelines, yet there is only one Tezzeret (while at the same time showing off a cool battle.) There is something special that he knows, something special that he can do (likely as a result of making it to the center of the Labyrinth) that will help him win out in the end.

The problem is that this concept could have easily been revealed by means other than pulling alternate Bolas' and Lilianas from other timelines, and thus completely destroying any redeeming quality of the ability known as clockworking.

My biggest hope is that by the end of this book, Nicol Bolas' clockworking ability is erased and that Tezzeret does not acquire it. This concept should absolutely never have been created.

My biggest fear is that Tezzeret learned clockworking from Cruious at the center of the Labyrinth because as stated earlier when Tezzeret was talking to Doc about Silas Renn... only a clockworker can truly defeat a clockworker.

Q: What's Worse Than Doc Pestering Tezzeret?

A: Nicol Bolas Pestering Himself.

So Doc was created as a "humor" outlet for the book to balance Tezzeret's more serious and analytical mind. Tezzeret isn't a very social person, and this journey through his memories created a supposed need for a second character for Tezzeret to bounce ideas off of and use as an excuse to explain what's going on.

I'm not fond of his humor, but fine. I get that.

What was the point of Nicol Bolas subminds? To show off that he's "smarter" than Tezzeret because he can devote completely independent parts of his mind to different tasks, so independent that they can't read each others' thoughts and can protest each others' actions? The point was to make him seem "cooler" than Tezzeret because it something only a dragon can do?

I hate the idea in general, and it's only made worse when it's shown to not be very effective. It's supposedly so much "better" to be able to subdivide your mind in so many pieces, yet Bolas didn't really do anything with it that couldn't conceivably be done by someone else.

He kept track of the battle, cast some spells, and thought about his Tezzeret problem, all the while failing at figuring what's going on and I assume will end up being outsmarted. *rollseyes*


To Sum It Up

I thought the book was finally heading in the right direction, and it's now not only hit a speed bump, but it's veered off the road, flipped over a couple times, and landed in a ditch.

1 comment:

  1. >My biggest hope is that by the end of this book, Nicol Bolas' clockworking ability is erased and that Tezzeret does not acquire it. This concept should absolutely never have been created.

    This quote is right. Clockworking is by far the worst thing ever written. It makes no sense to do anything but clockwork at steal things out of timelines if you're able to do it. Alternate corpses of yourself, and multiple versions of yourself are also not ok.

    While I really enjoyed how this book was written, it seemed to only get more tedious and painful at this point.