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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Test of Metal - Tezzeret: A Long and Winding Road, with Zombies

The answer to the riddle.

Tezzeret: A Long and Winding Road, with Zombies

The only good news in my forescout mirror was that we had finally reached our destination. The rest of the news was that our destination was surrounded by zombies.

A lot of zombies.
Someone had gotten here first.

The levitation sleds, made purely of etherium donated from the Hegemon's reserves and built and designed by Tezzeret have to be abandoned, but by the look of things, it is quite clear that the sleds will need to be disassembled so the material can aid in their defense.

Through their earpieces, Baltrice asks why they're stopping, and he he gives her the news.

Zombies ahead, I sent, to keep Doc out of it, but he’d already seen what I had in the mirror. “Zombies?” Doc said. “Are you kiddin’ me? You’re worried about zombies?”

“Can you count?”

“Sure—two, four, eighteen, carry the twelve—urk. Hot festering crap! There’s like a million—uh, a million six, give or take a couple thousand.”

“My estimate was a million two, but you have better eyes—eye—for this sort of thing, even though you’re using mine. We both could be off by as much as a million, or even several,” I said, “because there’s no way to tell how many are already inside.”

(More on this later.)

Baltrice dismounts and steps up besides Tezzeret. The zombies don't concern her too much. Zombies burn. But Tezzeret explains there is another problem. They have to abandon the sleds. They may have already alerted whoever is up ahead already, but it was necessary to use the sleds to navigate the Glass Dessert. From here on out the approach the Labyrinth on foot.

...What is the Crystal Labyrinth...

Crystal Labyrinth stands at the center of a vast, deep bowl of sand known as the Netherglass, some 20 miles across. Today, that is; the dimensions of the Netherglass are as variable as any other distance in the Glass Desert. I am given to understand that the Netherglass never shrinks below a fixed minimum of four miles across—but only because to do so would make it impinge upon the Labyrinth itself.

Even from almost 13 miles away, the Crystal Labyrinth is of a wholly astonishing appearance. Its walls and roofs are white as milk quartz, with no stain or sully to be seen, perhaps because constant abrasion by the scouring winds of the desert erode and erase all substances that might otherwise darken it. The Labyrinth proper is a structure of twelve immense rectangular buildings, set precisely in a great ring about three miles across.

It is said the dimensions of the Crystal Labyrinth are the only constants in all the Glass Desert.
Each of the great structures is in fact a vast hall of twelve stories, each story containing one hundred rooms, with each room having from two to twelve doors. Six of the stories of each great hall are above ground, and six are subterranean, directly below the upper. The connections between the buildings are said to exist beyond normal space. There are thresholds within the Labyrinth that might connect the lowest corner of one hall with the uppermost

The only record of of the Labryinth came from an adventurer named Faltus Mack. His account detailed the ever shifting condition within. Markers would disappear as soon as a room was left and walls seemed to shift making it impossible to be sure if he'd already encountered a particular room or if it was brand new. Walls and ceilings were made of glass that ranged from being completely transparent to completely opaque and looking like stone. His report also spoke of encountering others adventurers within, with some of them being races he knew did not exist on Esper, some being people who he knew were dead yet appeared fully alive, and he even encountered someone who claimed to be himself but was dressed in rags and quite mad. Faltus Mack was mad himself by the time he escaped, but that was no reason to completely ignore his words.

The Labryinth is the answer to Crucius' riddle.

When Tezzeret first told Baltrice before leaving Vectis, she was quite skeptical. Even if he is right, that the Labyrinth is the answer that Crucius intended, how can they trust him? He is also the one sphinx that other sphinxes consider to be quite mad. Tezzeret goes on to explain that Sharuum herself has told him that within the Labyrinth, there is a sphinx of unimaginable power known as Kemuel the Hidden One. He's hidden within a structure so old that it appears even in the earliest writings of the vedelken culture. But it is also important to consider the fact that if someone wants to be hidden, they don't go about creating such a curious structure that will only attract attention, and it's important to consider the fact that for a building so old, it strangely behaves like modern machines.

It was Crucius that build the Labyrinth.

The answer baffles Baltrice, and when she asks Tezzeret exactly how powerful Crucius is, his reply is to ask her to tell him how bright the sun is. When she asks how old the Mad Sphinx is, Tezzeret's reply is a bit more complicated.

“Time and age are not the same for a clockworker as for others. Even Planeswalkers. It’s at least conceivable that when Crucius decided he needed a Labyrinth, he clockworked his way back to pre-vedalken days. That way he could build it without fear of interruption.”

(More on this later.)

There is one last bit of confusion that Tezzeret needs to clear up. He tells Baltrice that a labyrinth is not just another word for a maze. While mazes are often filled with puzzles and traps intended for entertainment or perhaps darker purposes, labyrinths are supposed to be solved. He tells her that many classical labyrinths have had only one set path with many not even having any walls. Their purpose was to affect the beings who traveled its path, often to induce some kind of meditative state. To reach the center you have to transform yourself into the person that the creator intended you to be.

(I don't know what kinds of mazes he's talking about that are created that aren't meant to be solved, but let's just accept these definitions and move on.)

...Back to the problem at hand...

Baltrice ascends the glass sand dune and stands by Tezzeret. Zombies a mile deep surround the Labyrinth on all sides, all facing the structure. While that number of zombies is impressive to her, she doesn't see how it's too much of a problem. They can just fly on to one of the entrances, she turns a couple thousand to ash, then they seal themselves in.

Tezzeret gives her a moment to think beyond the tactics of the situation and explains the larger problem. There is no necromancer in existence that could have summoned more than a million zombies all at once. Not Nicol Bolas, not anyone. And while it's true that Esper now borders Grixis, the zombies could not have walked this far and survived with so much of their flesh still intact due to the harsh glass storms raging about that Tezzeret's etherium devices currently protects them from.

No, this was done by an army of necromancers, all working in concert. A rare occurrence indeed. And considering that that zombies all face towards the structure, they're not trying to defend the place. No. What's happened here is that Silas Renn has discovered the answer the to riddle as well.

(So what was the big deal about Tezzeret being the only one who could find Crucius? Hopefully that gets explained somehow further down the line... or I suppose it could be as simple as that Crucius knew that Silas Renn would die in the attempt.)

Silas was the only other person in the room with them, and since they did not kill him because of the further complications that would create with the Seekers of Carmot, they've allowed someone with the power, resources, and desire to hire the amount of necromancers to accomplish this feat if it will gain him the secret to creating etherium.

But why zombies? There is a saying on Esper known as Brute Force and Ignorance. Why should Silas risk his own life trying to solve the labyrinth, when he can just have so many zombies summoned to overwhelm the puzzle.

(I guess he doesn't know the whole deal about needing to be personally transformed to reach the center. Somehow I highly doubt the zombies will reach the appropriate meditative and contemplative state that Tezzeret was talking about.)

So Silas Renn is here. They caught him off guard last time, but Tezzeret makes it quite clear that this time he will be ready for them. Tezzeret makes it quite clear what is is that Silas Renn can do as a clockworker. There is a reason that clockworking is banned when it came to dueling between members of the Seekers of Carmot. Because they can see possible future and choose the most advantageous unless it is so improbable that it is beyond reason, only one clockworker can truly counter another.

Tezzeret offers Baltrice a chance to back away.

Eventually, she turned to me. “You have a plan, right? Tell me you have a plan.” 

I said, “I have a plan.”

* * *


Of course they're using earpieces to hear above the roar of the sandstorm you say. What else would they be doing? Telepathy? As we know from Agents of Artifice, telepathy is quite a rare ability, and when combining that with how rare planeswalkers are, Jace is truly a rare gem in the multiverse.

And yet we have Tezzeret thinking these very thoughts about the necessity in using etherium to create these earpieces to communicate with each other.

I would have preferred to reserve that etherium for other uses, but she was unwilling to use direct mind-to-mind communication, and considering for whom she worked, I couldn’t blame her. “There a problem?”

Is Stover saying that Tezzeret has mastered telepathy?

Zombie Count

Yes, I get the joke. Doc thinks there are a million and six zombies out there, give or take a couple thousand. The specificity of the first part of his answer contrasts wildly with the second part of the answer, and you get a cheap laugh. It's the kind of humor that is expected of this book now. And considering Doctor Jest, it is consistent with his rather annoying personality so let's move on.

No wait... we can't. Tezzeret replies back that he counted a million and six with the same error that Doctor Jest gave.

Now if you know anything about science and measurements, the whole purpose of error is to accurately describe a measurement. Your error figure describes the range in which the smallest digit you are measuring in might be off. If you measure something at 124 units and say there is an error of plus or minus 2 units, that means you are quite confident in your 120, but the 4 might not be right. The figure actually ranges from 122 to 126 units.

I get that Doctor Jest was just being stupid, and his line was written for a laugh. But the whole point of a "funny" character is to contrast with the "straight man." It's to allow for humor while still allowing for the protagonist to remain who he is as his core. Yet here we have Tezzeret seriously replying to Doc with the exact same type of response. That undermines his supposed brilliance to have him talking in that manner.


Within the context of this story, clockworking seems awesome. Temporal mages. They can see possible outcomes and select the best one, and they can travel back and forwards in time, like Crucius did to create the Labyrinth.

When it comes to writing, time travel is a problem. Just like being able to planeswalk too easily with too much accuracy is a problem. It makes it rather difficult to create believable situations where your protagonist is in danger and can just escape danger by teleporting or traveling through time.

That's why the way that time travel has been explored in previous Magic novels was so great. The universe resists time travel. If you are out of sync with the time you're supposed to be in, time will push back on you. The further out you are, the more resistance you face. That is the very reason that Karn is a silver golem. So much of Magic's history revolves around this set concept of time travel.

And here we have this book just throwing that all away.

Within the context of just this book, clockworking seems awesome. Within the context of a multi-book universe and story creation, clockworking seems problematic. Within the context of the Magic universe, clockingworking seems like a slap in the face to everything that's come before it.

Has the nature of time travel changed since the Mending and the rise of the new planeswalker? Or is this just an editorial oversight in continuity.

1 comment:

  1. After reading this book, I sort of hazarded a guess that this "clockworking" is based on the vision of time, not actual time travel. So that Silas (and Bolas and Crucius etc) can look into the futures and since they can see all of them, pick the best possibility for the actual time.

    This theory works better for Crucius 'going back' that Tezzeret says by the idea that Crucius was alive back then, and just clockworked his future consciousness back to his past.

    What's weird (and sort of hurts this theory) is when clockworkers pull actual objects out from possible timelines, even though there is only 1 timeline, and none of the other futures continue to exist... so where did the extras come from (you'll see that happening in the next few chapters, I believe)