Crucible

Array

Bill stared at the display of his computer briefly. How did this sort of thing keep happening? It made little sense. But he supposed that it was flattering of Carpenter to call and ask if he could figure out what was going on.

He brought up some footage from Oklahoma City that was on the news. Ice animals were roaming the streets, attacking police officers and civilians. And in the thick of things was Jason Jove. Of course. The idea of having a crisis without the presence of at least one well-known hero was ridiculous. He studied the footage, along with his mother and father, who were horrified by the whole thing.

But what Bill saw was much different. The first thing he noticed was that this attack was clearly targeted towards police. Every time an officer appeared, all the ice creatures swarmed around he or she. Interesting. As he watched, Bill found himself writing an array for this in his head. Not too difficult.

He reached for a napkin and started jotting down ideas to break the spell. But then he remembered another detail: they were originally small statues. That complicated things by working another layer into the array. Still, if he could reverse the targeting algorithm, or erase it, that could buy him some time.
“Mom, Dad, I’ll be in my room.” He said quietly, stepping past his transfixed parents. He needed to get a closer look at one of these animals. But for now, he could at least start working. One of his walls had been painted over with chalkboard paint, and it was here that he erased a large portion of what he had been working on previously. The array that would give him superhuman toughness had not been going well anyway. But he started re-constructing this new spell as best he could. Two effects, the targeting and the shrinking, meant two concentric circles. He glanced at his computer again, and saw an ice griffon attacking the reporter. Griffon. A mythical creature. Up until this point he had just seen normal animals in the ice. This changed things slightly.

He added another circle, between the inner targeting layer and the outer shrinking layer. The animals were clearly being fed behavioral information from a source in the array. That was the much harder way to go about things. Sticking with existing animals would have just had the sculptures default to basic instincts in the fabric of nature. But whoever made this was flashy. More advanced than he had anticipated. His parents knocked on the door to his room.

“Yes?” He asked, not moving from his chalkboard.

“Bill, honey, what are you doing in here?” His mother asked, opening the door a little to peak in. “Are you… trying to do magic again?”

“Tracy, let him work.” His dad interjected.

Bill was very thankful at least one of his parents understood, at least a little.

“Mom, this is really important. Oklahoma City is in danger, but I think I can fix it.”

“But Bill, it’s Christmas Eve!”

“I’ll be sure to tell the rampaging ice sculptures that. I’m sure that will stop them. Now, please let me work.”

“C’mon Tracy. Let’s leave him be.” His dad pulled his mother from the door with a conspiratorial wink at his son. Mom always got hysterical under pressure, and worried constantly. But at least she had let him continue attending school in Oklahoma next semester.

The chalk scraped across the wall, becoming more complex with each pass. The base spell, the enlargement, was the first finished. Physical focus, size dictated by the layer above, for the instinctual levels.

Bill frowned. Something was wrong with this… what was he missing?

He called Carpenter. Umbra answered instead.

“Can you capture one of these things alive?” He asked, not giving her time for a greeting.

“Uh…” he heard her calling to Carpenter on the other end, gunshots, the woosh of flame, and a roar like a lion passed through an echo chamber. He added another line to the array at the second layer. Noise was included. This whole thing was very complex.

“Maybe?” Umbra finally answered.

“I need you to put one of them in the communications array back at base.” He explained, and could almost hear the gears in her head start to turn with how they were going to accomplish this feat.

“Sure thing.” Umbra finally said, but the tone was that of incredulity. The call ended abruptly.

He switched the view on his computer to link to the communications array, in case this happened quickly. But the longer he stared at the array, it felt wrong. Then it hit him: these things were made of ice! He added a new circle in the center of the array, but did not flesh it out at that moment. Ice could be kept from freezing in one of two ways: the ice was magically generated using an integrated array perpendicular to this on the ‘z’ axis, or it was a temperature controlled system. Based on the rest of the spell, he’d put his money on the third dimension in the array.
He’d managed to build a counter to either measure, but implementing the wrong one could instead add to the integrity of the target spell, rather than breaking it.

Fortunately, he was getting a video call from Umbra. Was that an… ice rabbit?

“That rabbit is adorable.” He said, and it was true. The creature was huddled in the arms of Professor Sommerman, munching at some carrots.

“Yes it is.” Umbra agreed, and relayed the message to the people off screen. “Sommerman wants to know if whatever it is you’re going to do is going to kill it?”

Bill considered. The ‘z’ axis break would certainly kill the focus as well, but the temperature change break…

“I’ll see what I can do.” He said, and with a nod from his teammate, he ended the call.

The rabbit was placed in the array not long after, and Bill grinned. He would have lost that bet with himself. The innermost layer was a temperature control spell. With Carpenter and Umbra following his directions, he input the new spell to counteract the old, breaking it at its most simple point: raising the temperature of the spell from twenty degrees to seventy degrees, but with an exclusion for point of origin.

Fifteen long seconds later, news footage showed the city wet with melted sculptures. Including the giant Santa Clause in front of City Hall.

Ha. He’d like to see Mason pull off something as elegant as that!
When he finally emerged from his room, his dad gave him a clap on the back, and his mother hugged him before urging him to eat his holiday meal.

“But no magic at the table.” She insisted.

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