Tala moved through the city in a bit of a haze, Terry on her shoulder.
If she was being honest, she didn’t really register anything at all, until she was standing in Holly’s personal workshop, looking at the auto-inscriber.
She tilted her head to the side, regarding the machine. “Is that bigger?”
Holly was frowning in her direction. “Are you alright, Mistress Tala?”
Tala shifted her gaze to the small, older Mage. “Yes? Why?”
“I just told you that I’ve been adding to the device, increasing the surface area it can cover.”
“Oh…I guess I wasn’t listening.”
Holly was frowning. “But you should have memory of hearing it, regardless.” The inscriptions for mage-sight lit up on the inscriber’s face. Holly blinked in surprise. “What have you been doing to yourself? Do you have a constant funnel of power into your soul-bound weapon?”
Tala looked down at Flow. “Yeah, I had some excess, and it seemed a waste to just dump it into the air.” Wait… I was directing the power into Flow from my Way. When did I start feeding it at all times? It made sense, given that she’d increased her passive power accumulation rate. The excess has to go somewhere, after all. As she examined herself, she realized that she’d only directed most of the excess into Flow. She still allowed the incoming power to push at her body, stretching her power density ever so slightly before that miniscule overage seeped out.
“What have you been doing to increase your influx so much?”
She shrugged. “Exercises to move towards creating a full Archon star.” She gave a quick description, a bit surprised at her own eloquence.
“You are using a technique you came up with yourself.” Holly’s voice was a monotone.
“Well. No? It’s just the Way of the Void.”
“But you aren’t following the instructions you were given for such.”
“No? This created better results.”
Holly’s fingertips massaged her face, as the Mage let out a frustrated growl. “Do you grab the heaviest weights available for every exercise?”
Wow, she’s really confident that she won’t accidentally activate her inscriptions with cross-over… “I do mostly body-weight exercise, but after these enhancements?” Tala patted her rather average-looking bicep, through the leather. “Yeah, probably.”
Holly huffed a breath. “Fine, bad example.” She seemed to be considering. “Now that I think about it, I doubt I can come up with a suitable one.” She gave Tala a critical look. “You’re a bit insane, when it comes to training.” She brightened. “Ah! Have you ever juggled?”
“Then, if you were going to learn, would you simply pick up as many knives as you could hold and start throwing them up?”
“Well, I’ve no idea, but that sounds like a bad idea.” After a moment’s hesitation, she shrugged. “I don’t suppose I could get hurt by the knives, so maybe?”
Holly’s lips pressed together in irritation, her eyes widening just slightly. That kind of makes her look a bit manic…
Tala held up her hands. “But I see your point!”
Holly seemed to calm herself. “Rusting right, you understand my point.” She took another breath, calming further. “The different ‘Ways’ have been developed over…well, I’m not sure how long we humans have been working on them. The point is, they are tried and tested, proven to be effective, efficient means of progressing. Making up your own would be like…” She seemed at a loss for a good comparison, once again.
“Like making an Archon star in a new substance?”
“Exactly!” Holly snapped, pointing at Tala, and visibly brightening. Then, she stopped, eyes narrowing and smile fading. “No. No, you can’t use that fluke to justify your insanity.”
Tala was grinning broadly but held up her hands in surrender. “Fine, I’ll exercise caution.”
The inscriber rolled her eyes and sighed exaggeratedly. “Which means you won’t change anything, but you’ll consider being less rash.” She shook her head.
“Anyway. I have a couple things to discuss with you.”
“Besides burning yourself alive from the inside out with magical power?”
“Yes, besides that.” She smiled again. “I want to activate my crush attack, on myself, but I don’t want it to scale up.”
Holly didn’t blink at the idea, just nodding. “That’s simple. You know the inscriptions that are responsible for recursion. Keep power out of those to alter the activation as desired.”
“Yes, I think I do, but I don’t want to kill myself through arrogance.”
Holly gave her a flat look.
“This is totally different. Gravity is serious business.” After a pause, Tala giggled. “It has gravitas.”
Holly cocked her head, frowning. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, yes. You’re just taking this so seriously.”
“Magic isn’t serious?”
Tala opened her mouth to respond, but Holly waved her off.
The inscriber sighed. “Fine, fine. I am actually glad that you asked. So, here, let’s verify.”
“You…aren’t going to ask why?”
“It’s obvious. You can take the increased weight, and the benefits in training, alone, would be monumental. I imagine you have other, less reasonable thoughts as to why you should do it, but my sanity begs me not to ask.”
Tala wasn’t quite sure how to take that.
“We’ll need to use the inscribings I recommended for your feet, earlier.”
“The ones to distribute my weight more widely?”
“Yes. I was concerned that, given your increasing mass, that would be needed to prevent you causing damage as you walked. If we’re going to be amplifying your interactions with gravity, too? I think we should give your feet at least a one-foot radius pressure distribution, each. That should keep you in the range of pressure that a normal person exerts as they walk. You’ll still have the weight, but it should keep you from sinking into softer materials.”
“That should work, yeah.” And because it’s affecting my foot directly, and the ground only indirectly, my iron salve shouldn’t interfere.
“We should give the same to your palms.”
“You do push-ups, and similar exercises, yes?”
“Oh! Right. That makes sense.” She didn’t want her hands sinking into the ground, either.
“For your reference: once your bones are completely restructured, and your reserves are as full as is reasonable, you should be around two-hundred and eighty pounds. Add in a quadrupling of your gravitational constant, and you’ll break the scale at well over a thousand pounds. It is going to be inconvenient.”
Tala frowned. “I supposed I could just set a mental condition to allow the change to be shrugged off, when I needed to.”
Holly hesitated. “That is possible, but I’d recommend against it. You will have to move almost entirely differently. Your body will need to adjust. Your mind more so and switching back and forth will be unneeded, extra strain.”
Tala sighed. “Fair enough.”
“Now, let’s get your inscriptions finished, and these new ones added.”
“Don’t you need to work up a schema?”
Holly gave her a knowing smile. “Your inscribing is being used to test my invention, dear girl. I’ve worked up a thousand versions of dozens of possibilities for you. Those we are to add just need to be flagged as good to go.”
“Fair enough. I’ve finished my topical review for the remaining inscriptions.” Tala had also already read about, and understood, the surface area increasing enhancements, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
“I assumed so. This will be our last session, for now. You’ll get all the remaining scripts.” She hesitated. “I trust you noticed the section for your eyes?”
Tala sighed and nodded. “Yes. Having them pop within my head was unpleasant enough that I’ll not fight you on it. They are only protective and regenerative, so I won’t have to adjust to new stimulus.” She shrugged. Should be worth it, especially with the auto-inscriber, in place of her jabbing my eyes with a needle over and over, manually…
“Good to hear. After this is finished, you and I can ensure you don’t turn yourself to jelly as you increase your weight.”
Tala nodded. “That’s the idea.” Her focus had pushed the fuzziness aside for much of the conversation, but she still felt like she was thinking through a cloud. That doesn’t really make sense.
As she allowed the auto-inscriber to be positioned on her, this time completely encompassing her torso, neck, and head, Tala allowed her mind to fall back into the comfortable absence of thought.
* * *
“Mistress Tala?” Motion before her eyes pulled at Tala’s attention. “Tala!”
Tala started, looking around.
Holly’s hand was dropping away from in front of Tala’s face.
“Hmm? What’s going on?” The auto-inscriber was tucked off to the side.
“We’re done.” After a moment, Holly added. “We’ve been done for nearly five minutes, but you’ve just been standing there.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. So, shall we do my feet and hands, then?”
Holly gave her a concerned look. “No. We’re done. All inscriptions are complete.”
Really? Good. “Great. So, let’s do the gravity work.”
Holly glanced towards the wall in front of Tala, then back to her. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
Tala looked to where Holly had glanced, and saw an expanded version of her crushing script, the portions she needed to keep power from were emphasized. “Ah, yes! Thank you.” She shook her head. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”
“So, it seems. Maybe-”
Tala brought up her right hand, fingers and thumb pulled in tight. Her index and middle fingers pointed towards the ceiling, and her ring and pinkie fingers were bent down. She focused her mage-sight inward, ensuring that she thought of herself in her entirety. No repeat of the midnight fox incident.
Crush. As power leapt through the activating scripts, she held it back from the recurring functions. She almost staggered as she was suddenly much heavier, but then the power faded from her spell-form, and the danger was past, leaving her with quadruple her previous weight. “There.”
Holly sighed. “Maybe, it would have been wise to wait.”
She fought to stay upright. Her heart was laboring against vastly heavier blood. That’s what kills most. Her heart, however, was enhanced, and was able to beat more forcefully than others. Her entire vascular system was reinforced, so it could take the strain of high blood pressure. All of her tissue was, else she’d likely pop her own organs. “You know.” She found the act of talking much more difficult than before, too. Still, she persevered. “If I do get cut, I’ll be a fountain.” She kept herself from giggling.
Holly shook her head. “At least that shows some deeper level thinking. But, no, you won’t. Remember? Parts of the inscribings on your blood system was to redirect kinetic energy. Unless you will it, you’ll never bleed more than a trickle.” She hesitated.
Right! She shouldn’t have forgotten that. Tala frowned, even that felt odd, the world pulling on her face differently than she was used to. “I feel a little funny.” She took a step, feeling like someone was clutching around her leg. Or that my leg is now much, much heavier.
“You don’t look so good.” Holly was frowning with obvious concern. “Why don’t you lie down?”
Tala shook her head, feeling momentarily dizzy as her inner ears struggled to understand what was going on. She groaned and sat down. Well, she tried to. The chair, which she’d used in the past, creaked then splintered, dumping her unceremoniously onto the ground.
Holly was at her side in a moment. “Deep breaths, Mistress Tala. Focus on acclimating.”
Tala nodded, again feeling like the world was spinning without her. She didn’t vomit. Her inscriptions wouldn’t allow it.
As she examined herself, with her mage-sight, Tala realized that she was still funneling power into Flow, strengthening the knife, and her bond to it. Interesting. That’s become an unconscious thing.
As she focused on the knife, she got the sudden feeling that it, and their bond, was approaching a threshold of power. Her steady stream was miniscule, but the barrier was close.
I wonder what that is? Her unfocused mind did some rough calculations, and she spoke without thought. “Huh, I think my bond with the knife is almost powerful enough to match a true Archon star.”
Holly pulled back, eyes wide. Her mouth opened, but Tala never got to hear what she was about to say.
The threshold was reached, the link between herself and the knife pulsed, and the world went white, her mind fleeing the madness of reality into the comfortable nothingness of sleep.
* * *
Tala woke slowly, staring up at the ceiling in her room, in Lyn’s house. What?
The ceiling seemed too far away. It felt like someone had strapped weights to her body, but she was still able to move. A small fuzzy warmth was tucked against her bare feet.
Strangely, she felt incredible. Her mind was clear, and she didn’t feel tired in the slightest.
She lifted her arm to free her eyes from the sleep that had gathered during the night. There was a lot.
I don’t remember going to bed… With more effort than she’d recently required, she sat up and looked around.
She was on the floor, on her bedroll. The bed that she had been using was gone, along with the chair for the desk, leaving the room feeling strangely empty.
Terry was curled up near where her feet had been.
Tala was dressed in her elk-leather clothing, still, but they felt weak, like they were starving.
Oh, no! She reached inside herself for power to dump into the item and found that only about three quarters of her inflow was going to her body and the active inscriptions therein. The rest was going into Flow, just as she’d directed so often of late.
Quickly, Tala moved that excess of power into the outfit, funneling it into Kit next, as soon as the elk leather was full. Thankfully, the dimensional bag was still functional.
She noted that each item filled as fast as any time previous, despite the inscriptions that Holly had added in their most recent session. Even when I was using the void. True, she was doing them one at a time, but even so. I guess my gate has expanded? She really didn’t want to put numbers to it, but she couldn’t help the mathematical portion of her thoughts from spitting out. I’d bet my base rate is around 8 mana per second. The finalization of her spell-forms had increased their running magical draw.
As she thought about it: If the void channels still had the same multiplicative effect, she’d be able to make a top rate Archon star in just over two hours. Around one, if I’m happy with lesser results. True, that was only if she could maintain the void channels for the entire time, and didn’t give her active inscriptions anything, but it was still a mind-bending realization.
She reached out and refilled Terry’s collar as well, causing the bird to stir. He stood, regarding her quizzically. Does he look stressed?
A smiled tugged at her lips, and she got him some jerky, which he ate slowly, watching her critically the entire time. “What’s-” She stopped, her voice sounding like a croak.
Water. She got her brass incorporator out and very carefully took a drink. That triggered her thirst, and she spent the next little while drinking as much as she could. Her stomach was utterly empty.
Finally, she felt like she’d drunk enough. “What’s going on?” Her voice was a whisper, but at least it was no longer a rasp.
Terry just looked at her. If he’d had eyebrows, she suspected one would have been raised.
“Right, too complicated.”
Her hair was still braided, but there were a lot of strands that had come loose. I did that at the Guardsman’s training yard, right? Even with her mind clear, her memories were fuzzy. That can’t be good…
Her every movement felt heavy, and it clicked in her mind that she’d enacted the weight increase that she’d discussed with the class of guards.
Well, I survived that, then. But how had she gotten here?
She stretched, lightly, trying not to move too much. As she did so, she assessed her state. Hungry, but not starving. No broken…anything, no bleeding. No concussion. Blade’s sharp- She hesitated at that. My blade is sharp? She held out her hand and, with a flicker of movement, Flow was in her grasp. The weapon had come to her more quickly than ever before. No, that isn’t right. It moved where I wanted. It was already with me. The blade reshaped into a sword, and back just as quickly, though it still took virtually all of her incoming power to enact the change. Something’s different. She narrowed her eyes, examining the weapon.
She heard footsteps in the hall, and a voice carried through the door. “Thank you for dropping by to get me. Just let me check in on her, and we can leave.”
Tala sheathed the knife as Lyn pushed the door open and froze. I’ll examine it later.
Tala cocked her head. “Lyn.”
A startled exclamation came from outside, and Rane poked his head around the doorframe, looking past Lyn. “Mistress Tala. You’re awake!”
Tala frowned. “That’s what you do after you sleep.” She wetted her lips. “What happened?”
Rane looked lost, but Lyn sighed. “You lost consciousness at Mistress Holly’s workshop.”
“And? That’s happened before.”
“You overtaxed your mind, your will, likely your soul, too. Mistress Holly said that your soul-bond to that knife reached a cusp of true strength, and it became too much for your weary self to take.” She shrugged, looking uncertain. “Your mind began to fray, and so, it retreated into unconsciousness.”
“How did you get me back here? Where’s my bed?”
Lyn opened her mouth, but Rane cleared his throat, answering the question. “When you weren’t at the training yard, I tracked you down to Mistress Holly’s shop.” He smiled, holding back a chuckle. “They couldn’t move you, and Mistress Holly was getting very cross at your presence in her personal workroom. Apparently, the doorways were too small for any heavy lifting machinery, and she wasn’t willing to commission something special, just to move you.” He cleared his throat. “I suspect that she could have solved the problem, but likely, she wanted to keep an eye on you. After there was someone else around to do it, though?” He shrugged. “She was content to pass off that responsibility. I can impart kinetic energy, and that depends on mass, not weight, so we were able to get you here…if a bit unconventionally.” He looked a bit embarrassed by that.
“I won’t ask.” She got a mental image of herself suddenly flying in a chosen direction, flopping through a hallway or down a road.
“I think that’s for the best.” Rane cleared his throat. “When we got here, I gave you enough energy to lift up onto the bed. The bed immediately broke under you. The wood of the structure shredded the mattress. After that, we cleared out the broken pieces and got your bedroll set up.”
Tala frowned. “How did you get my bedroll?”
He shrugged. “It just sort of flopped out of your pouch.” He scratched the back of his head. “We took out the chair too, just to be safe.”
She looked down. “Thanks, Kit.” She patted the dimensional storage.
The pouch did not respond.
Tala sighed, returning her attention to the two people in her doorway. “Alright, so…what? I was unconscious for a day?” She glanced at the window, her heavy movements still feeling odd. The light is right for afternoon. She turned back. They were sharing a look. “What? Losing a day is rusting awful, but if I work hard enough, I’ll recover the lost time.”
It was Lyn’s turn to speak, apparently, as she cleared her throat. “It’s been four days since you fell unconscious, Tala. You’ve been here for three.”
Tala’s mouth opened, but she couldn’t form a response.
“A Healer friend came by and said you were alive, and that your soul was still in your body, but he couldn’t tell me when you’d wake up.”
Four days…That is so much time I’ve missed. Wait… Does that mean they had to get me to the privy somehow? No. She shook her head. The digestive inscriptions ensure I use all parts of anything I ingest, even recycling what would normally be expelled. That was a relief. Even trying to imagine them handling that was…humiliating.
“The Wainwrights were a bit irritated that you couldn’t come by to test the cargo-slots that they made for you, but it hasn’t become a true problem, yet. The guardsman class has the first version of your fighting style ready, but they were able to shift their schedule around to work with Master Rane, until you recovered.”
Rane cleared his throat. “Mistress Holly is livid, by the way. She insisted that I tell you that as soon as you woke up.” He looked a bit embarrassed as he added. “And she wanted me to say: ‘I told you so.’ From her, of course.”
Tala snorted a laugh. “Sounds like her.”
“Also, the bits of gold that came from your keystone?” He looked incredibly confused by his own question.
He grunted. “I’ll ask later, I suppose. Well, she said those were now payment for the inconvenience you caused her.”
Tala sighed. “I suppose that’s better than I deserve…” Then, the seriousness of the lost time settled back down on her. She took a deep breath and let it out quickly. “Well, rust. Thank you, both, for the help, for getting me back here. Seems that you all might have been right: Slow and steady would have been better.”
Lyn’s eyes narrowed. “Might? No, Tala. We were right. It is better. I can hold the void for more than five hours, now. How’s your progress?”
Tala groaned. “Low blow, but fine. I won’t push quite so fast.”
Lyn opened her mouth, but Rane put a hand on her shoulder. She glanced at him and closed it. “Take the win, Mistress Lyn.”
Tala looked back and forth. Had they met before? Her mind was still a bit fuzzy. She shrugged. “Well. Time’s wasting.” I have four days of meal budgets to spend. She found herself smiling. I can get at least one good thing out of this debacle. “I need to eat.”