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One of the very few fortunate things about Cheis's situation was that the pain management and blood chemistry enchantments she had thrown together the previous morning were still running; she dialed down the skull-exploding agony far enough that she could get a solid reading on her current level of impairment and determined that her blood alcohol level was downright toxic. Without access to hydration, she couldn't fix that completely (and she was obviously losing enough blood that anemia was a problem too), but she could at least do some shenanigans to her blood gas exchange functionality and shunt the more oxygen-deprived blood to her extremities. Normally this was something her anklet did for her automatically, but judging from the large spikes through her palms it had been removed by whoever had done this to her. Had they removed her earring too? She checked the log and smirked when she saw that it had registered two kills. Take that, whoever the fuck you were.

The smart move was to hang here, pretending to be helpless, until whoever was behind this revealed themselves for their big evil speech; but that carried a lot of risks, and her current situation wasn't all that confidence-inspiring. Her energy levels, though buoyed somewhat by the souls of whoever had tried to take her earring, were at a downright measly 648%; she really needed to get around to refactoring the scale on that. It had originally been calibrated to her maximum natural vital capacity (before she'd figured out storage enchantments), and nowadays she didn't like to run around with less than 10k%. But now, she supposed, wasn't the time to be tinkering with UI components. More importantly, there was always the chance that she'd be outmaneuvered; they'd already shown themselves capable of that once. Best to be proactive.

Her current situation, though extremely dire, was not remotely enough to scare her; she'd been worse off in Dray's Hill by a long shot. Without the ability to move her fingers and toes, she couldn't make somatic gestures to trigger her macros or form a new runic structure, but remapping a manipulator was child's play; she mentally configured a lingual wrapper layer while she thought about the more serious problem. The Seal of Iron Silence was some serious juju; it was a ninth-circle spell by the ridiculous metrics the Celi'sa used to classify their magics, and even Cheis herself was only seventh-level in her natural state. Whoever was behind this had obviously suborned or otherwise gained the assistance of either the archmage or one of his peers. Probably not all that challenging; the particular neurodynamics which gave them ninth-level spellcasting capability also made them naive and stuttery. She could have done it in her sleep. But the seal itself was no joke; it permanently crippled the speech centers of the brain right down to the metaphysical level, producing productive aphasia so severe that you couldn't even write things down. How had her captor been planning on interrogating her, exactly?

Well, she'd figure that out later; it was time to bust out. She stuck her tongue out and began wiggling it around, doing her best to approximate the gestures her macros would be listening for; she hoped the mirror wasn't a monitoring portal, because she was pretty sure this looked ridiculous. Making the trigger somatics for her Ferrous Failure macro took her four tries, but eventually she got it right; the iron chains holding her up, the iron spikes through her palms, the pan underneath her, and the metal backings of the mirror all dissolved into smoke, and she fell heavily to the floor as the mirror fell out of its bindings and shattered on the stone below. Now to deal with the damage.

She didn't know if the noise would bring guards, but she assumed that it would; best to get things sorted quickly. She loaded a prior checkpoint, ran a quick checksum, and applied it with the "-s" and "--body" flags; her vision dimmed for a moment and her power level dipped to 429% as her body abruptly reverted to the particular configuration of atoms it had constituted two weeks ago. Damn. Now she had to wash her hair again.

Next, she cloned a virtual copy of her anklet and put it back on, which dropped her to 388% and falling; maintaining it would be a constant drain until she could locate or astrally swap the original. Just when she was starting to get worried, she heard the rattle of armed and armored figures coming up a stairwell behind the room's door; finally. A squadron of six heavily-armed men burst through, pointed their swords at her, and got almost 1.5 syllables through their demand or threat or whatever before she finished her reaping macro; their corpses clattered to the floor noisily as her power levels jumped back up to 971%. Still pretty low, but one problem at a time. She should probably escape now, but she had one more serious problem to take care of.

She grabbed up a shard of mirror and checked her appearance; the brand in her forehead was gone, but the damage to her brain was probably still there. An attempt at saying "whiskerwiggins", her first cat's name, came out as "blunglebogbox", so that was confirmed; damn. Fixing this was really going to suck.

She queried the status of the checkpoint she'd just loaded, grimacing; it had been taken just before Pellamin's arrival. Still, at least she had that; the previous backup was more than half a year old at this point, from back when she'd last recompiled. Oh well. She smirked, comforted at least by the knowledge that the previous night's dinner would be an acceptable casualty.

She opened a text buffer in her emulator, dashed out a few pages of notes to herself, and ran the restore command again with "-s --mind --force -y" appended with her override string. Hopefu-

***

Cheis of Veraleigh blinked. She appeared to be sitting in a stone cell, surrounded by shards of mirror and the corpses of dead guys in armor. Welp. Obviously it was going to be that kind of day. She struggled to her feet and groaned; had she been sleeping on a stone floor? Where was Linduin? Where, for that matter, was her cottage?

A notification pinged in her mind; some kind of message in her emulator storage? She opened it and read it with disbelief and mild amusement. Kidnapped, check. In Ciel-Upon-The-Sea with Pellamin? That was going to be awkward. Archmage implicated, Seal of Iron Silence, blah blah blah. Whatever, she could deal with him. Linduin infatuated with Umbria, that was just fantastic. She wanted to reap herself right now and get it over with.

Well, one thing at a time. She ran a couple of status commands and saw that her reserves were ticking down from a terrifyingly low 923%; yikes. How had she ever let herself get this drained? And what was this tongue-to-finger map library for? Must have been a hell of a party. She poked through the corpses for identification or other clues, but found nothing of import; no clue who these guys even were, so she was probably going to be wanted for murder if her typical luck was any indication. Whatever. She dissolved them into base atoms and harvested what little energy she could; at least now proving anything would be slightly more challenging. Maybe she should have kept a sword, though. Hacking somebody apart would be cathartic if it came to that.

Exploration revealed that she was in some kind of tower in an abandoned castle; there didn't appear to be any other people here, nor were there any convenient written explanations of the evil plan of whoever had done this. Sigh. Well, at least she was back in Ciel. Maybe she could grab one of those iced coffees she'd missed.

***

Velinaer made good time through the mountains, but most of the army fell further and further behind as he went; beset by concerns such as "rest", "food", and "sleep", they were simply unable to keep up with his tireless pace. Galar, muttering prayers to Santorana almost constantly, managed to keep pace for several days, but eventually his addled brain gave up the ghost and he keeled over, snoring, directly into Meloria. If he had fallen on Velinaer he would have been killed instantly, but the jujoram's enchantments were protective in nature, and Velinaer merely had to filter out a number of "FEAST UPON THE LIVING? Y/N" queries and instruct it to carry the slumbering form of its host's premortem spouse. He could have left Weepy-But-Still-Pretty-Cool Glowing Spear Dude behind, he supposed, but whatever sweet magic ninja powers he had used against the igg had obviously been super effective; if he had to pick a recruit from these other-side-of-the-world cavepeople, this was probably the best he could do without slowing himself down. That whole language barrier thing was definitely a big pain in the ass, but this guy had at least seemed to understand him a little, so maybe he could get some more information when he woke up. For now, the guy could catch some Z's.

His overland journey ended at a large beach, bordering a big-ass body of water; well, he'd definitely seen the igg blast off in this direction. Maybe it had splashed down out to sea? He ran a couple of ping sweeps and got a definitive contamination signature several miles out; damn. Now he had to figure out how to swim, or something.

He supposed he could just walk on the sea-floor; it wasn't like he or his zombie needed air. He'd have to ditch Ninja Boy for that, though. He pondered, but eventually decided against it; they'd make terrible time, anyway. He needed a little bit more mobility.

With a few exertions of his will, he disassembled his skeletal mount and pottered about with its bones until he had something resembling a general frame; his zombie obediently smashed a few nearby trees and brought him a large amount of wood. At first he tried to bind the cellulose directly to the osseous frame, but that failed pretty miserably, and eventually he just gave up and made an ice-and-splinters mixture with sufficient heterogeneity to be a rough approximation of pykrete. It made his little boat look black and menacing, too, which was important. He was operating in a professional capacity here, after all.

It took some doing, but after a couple of attempts he managed to get his zombie to load Galar's sleeping form into the boat. He clambered in himself (falling over twice, because this was another thing his body hadn't exactly been designed for), and finally got the thing pushed out into the water. He cobbled together a couple of shitty thermal enchantments to keep it from melting, siphoned off the heat output from those into a rudimentary wave converter, and rigged up a propulsion unit from that; he gave it the appearance of a jaunty black sail purely out of nostalgia for the pirate shows he'd watched as a kid.

As the boat sailed smoothly out to sea, his zombie holding the stern and kicking tirelessly for added speed, the absurdity of the whole situation finally managed to wrest a giggle out of him. Who said network engineering was dull?

***

The tattoo artist had been very confused at first, but the two very heavy gold coins Linduin had bribed him with had significantly more persuasive power than any prospective argument. The hard part had been getting his hands on another copy of the diagram, anyway; he'd finally had to resort to tearing a page out of a bookstore's copy and running his ass off, which had been terrifying but also kind of exciting. Maybe, he mused, there was a life-of-crime angle he could pursue if this whole wizard's apprentice gig didn't work out. After a very painful three hours in the tattooing chair, it was done; he now had his own personal runic circle tattoo on his right temple, high up on the bony plate and below where his hair usually fell. He hoped this wasn't a colossally stupid idea, but it was too late now. He ducked into an alley, found himself a secluded spot between two lumber piles, and performed the incantation.

This time he had a better idea of what to expect, and the sense of dissociation wasn't nearly as strong; it was a bit like having two brains, one that acted and one that experienced. He marveled, entranced, as other bits of his brain began to do strange things like run recursive loops of thought text through the collar's lexing engine, hooked up its calculator to its timing functions, and tinkered curiously with its own cognitive processes. In about fifteen minutes, it had partitioned off a chunk of his long-term memory (mostly the bits holding his most painful and embarrassing experiences) and started writing dense execution logic into it as a buffer.

Linduin, unfortunately, had never really had the opportunity to really understand exactly how important formative memories are to a person's personality, so it should not be much of a surprise that he did some pretty severe damage to his disposition and temperament in the course of this process. Without the benefit of his most emotionally-charged experiences of suffering, his empathy took the biggest hit (along with portions of his valuation systems and a sizable chunk of his emotional coping skills), while his predictive and analytical capabilities skyrocketed. When the thoughtspeeding enchantment faded, Linduin strode out of the alley with four things; a large list of planned actions to execute, a thick repertoire of spell macros at his disposal, a tremendous amount of new confidence, and a moderate case of narcissistic personality disorder. Everything which followed, naturally, was inevitable.

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AMBLE

  • Amateur Author, Professional Loon

Bio: https://twitter.com/secretly_amble

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