Category: Fiction (page 3 of 41)

Reignition, Part 3

Art courtesy Steve Argyle
Art courtesy Steve Argyle

Spoiler
The following is a non-profit work of fan-fiction. Magic: the Gathering and its attendant characters, locations, terminology, and events are owned by Wizards of the Coast, Richard Garfield, Mark Rosewater, et al. All rights reserved. Please support the official release.


Previously…

The darksteel tendrils rattled and growled like living things as the prisoner struggled against her restraints. She’d woken up a bit earlier than usual, so Jor Kadeen was not only annoyed at the noise, but also the hour. He scowled as he walked into the wan light of the cave, looking up at the small prison several Vulshok had struggled — and some had died — to construct.

“It’s too early in the morning for this foolishness, Glissa.”

“Release me, fool!”

Kadeen shook his head. “I know you’re not an idiot, elf. You were captured by us, we’re not just going to release you on a whim.”

Glissa snarled, frothing at the mouth, infectious ichor oozing down her chin.

“I will feast on your throatmeat!”

Kadeen’s face went sour. “Woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I see. Fine.” He drew his sword and, with a small effort of will, set it aflame.

Courtesy Austin Hsu
Artwork Courtesy Austin Hsu

“Let’s start over. Where have the Praetors gone?”

“Torture me if you wish, fleshling! All you will get from me is death!”

Kadeen’s mood darkened even more. Apparently, Glissa had used her most recent portion of rest to regather her resolve and put up a fresh front of bravado. Death had never held much fear for the elf, and now emboldened by her ‘perfection’ at the hands of the Praetors of ‘New Phyrexia,’ the corrupted traitor feared even less. Jor took a step forward.

“I won’t torture you. But I will tell you what I’ll do. I’m leaving, and I’m going to melt the Tangle.”

Glissa stopped struggling. She stared at the Mirran warrior.

“I will take my blade, which burns with the desire to see Mirrodin restored, and I will watch the copper branches and leaves of the Tangle blister and peel. The home you failed to protect will be utterly destroyed. Not ‘perfected’, not saved, destroyed. And it will be your fault. You’ll be even more of a traitor to your birthplace than you are now.”

“No.” Glissa strained against her bonds. “No! Release me!”

Jor turned and walked away from the darksteel lattice, ignoring Glissa’s screams.

“Was that really necessary?”

He turned, finding the slender form of Melira leaning against the cavern wall around the corner from the tunnel to Glissa’s chamber.

Courtesy Min Yum
Artwork Courtesy Min Yum

“We have to reach her somehow. Personal threats don’t work. I was hoping she still feels some sort of connection to the Tangle.”

“Even if she does, it would only be to corrupt it. To reshape it in Phyrexia’s image, even moreso than it is now.”

Jor shook his head. “Even if I meant to carry out my threats, it’s a dangerous place. I wouldn’t want to get stuck there.” He paused. “But we have to do something. I don’t like that the Praetors are moving in ways we can’t see. And Koth…”

“Oh, don’t start again.”

“We need action!” Jor’s anger flared. “We’ve skulked in the shadows long enough! The sooner we strike out at Phyrexia, the sooner we can draw the Praetors back out, and we can fight them and we can win! We’re well past the need for caution and circumspection!”

Melira looked at Jor evenly. “I’ll remind you that I lead here while Koth is away. Not you.”

“Then give me leave to do what must be done.”

“I’ve given you leave to question Glissa and gather intelligence. Not to reignite the fires of war.”

Jor gripped his sword more tightly. “You would have me sneak through the dark like some thief rather than bring my sword down on the necks of those who have torn apart all we hold dear… still, after everything we’ve been through…”

Melira wasn’t listening anymore. She was looking past Jor. He noticed, and turned to see a pair of amber eyes moving towards them in the dark. As the form approached, more molten glow appeared, in the hands and arms of the planeswalker Koth.

Courtesy Eric Deschamps
Artwork Courtesy Eric Deschamps

“If you want to rant about revenge and the necks of our enemies, do so at me.” Koth’s voice was weary, but every bit as strong as it had been when Jor had first met him, a voice that originated somewhere around the base of a mountain. “Melira has better things to do than pay you heed.”

Without another word, he walked past the pair into the tunnel. They followed. Koth stopped in front of Glissa and crossed his arms.

“Why are they going back to Dominaria?”

Jor and Melira blinked at Koth. Jor spoke first. “How did you…?”

“Later.” Koth thrust his chin at Glissa. “Speak.”

“They now have all they need,” Glissa hissed. “They have their guide. They have their knowledge. They have the perfected vector to return to the world that denied them, and make it their own, just as they have conquered this cold world of metal and simpletons.”

Jor scowled and moved to advance on Glissa. Koth’s arm did not seem to move — one moment it was across his bare chest, the next it was blocking Jor’s path, solid and unbreakable as darksteel. Jor took the hint.

“Explain.”

“If I did not tell your little blonde lapdog, why – ?”

“Because your body may no longer feel pain, but your soul does. And I can tear it out and scorch it.”

Both Jor and Melira stared at Koth. He continued as if he didn’t notice.

“I am a Planeswalker. I exceed any mortal power. And the Praetors, fearsome they may be, are mortal. As are you. Explain, before I remind you of that. This is a lesson you do not want.”

There was silence in the chamber. Then:

“They kept his corpse, Koth of the Hammer. The Spark was gone. But he remained. And like me, he was twisted, broken, reshaped, sent forth.” Glissa looked up. Her eyes were now haunted, not defiant. “They sent him home. And they follow.”

Koth stood like the mountains of his home. Then, he turned and stalked out. Small molten spots marked his footsteps.

Jor and Melira followed hurriedly. “What did she mean?” Jor asked at the same time as Melira’s “Where are you going?”

“It means I have to go kill a friend,” Koth said. “I’m going to kill Venser.”

Mondays are for making or talking about art.

Credits: Magic the Gathering copyright Wizards of the Coast. Glissa the Traitor art courtesy Xoaba. Jor Kadeen art courtesy Richard Wright. Melira, Sylvok Outcast art courtesy Richard Wright. Koth of the Hammer art courtesy Richard Wright.

Reignition, Part 2

Art courtesy Xoaba
Art courtesy Xoaba

Spoiler
The following is a non-profit work of fan-fiction. Magic: the Gathering and its attendant characters, locations, terminology, and events are owned by Wizards of the Coast, Richard Garfield, Mark Rosewater, et al. All rights reserved. Please support the official release.


Previously…

Dominarian taverns always felt like home, moreso than just about anywhere else. Save maybe its crypts.

She stepped through the doors, glancing around and stretching out her senses. A Planeswalker never truly lost their connection to home, even if something horrible happened to it. Nissa’s crisis on Zendikar and Chandra’s on Kaladesh were prime examples. Her manor might be located on Innistrad, but she wasn’t about to act like Sorin Markov and just… ignore a problem on the plane of her birth. It would definitely be nice if nothing like that happened here. And if she could avoid the attention of that accursed Raven Man or any of a number of demons, that’d be even better. Hence borrowing one of Jace’s spare cloaks — he had a closet full of the things, surely he wouldn’t mind the loan, even if she’d taken it without permission. It looked better on her, anyway. This one was enchanted to conceal the wearer from passing notice. He’d crafted it after he failed to sneak around Innistrad.

Not that such precautions were necessary in the current setting. This tavern was particularly raucous and chaotic. The infamous Festival of Estark was right around the corner, and many of the commoners were caught up in the excitement and preparing for the event with drink and the occasional friendly (or not-so-friendly) brawl. She kept her hood up as she navigated the loud and somewhat smelly interior of the tavern. It was a modest affair, a waystation and inn about halfway between Kush and Barbar, which partially explained the shouting.

On the floor in each of the tavern’s four corners were circles laid out in brass, laid into the wood and measuring about a two meters in diameter. They were meant to contain the spells of the fighter-mages of Kush’s Houses who tested their skills and fought for cash. Three of the circles were occupied in such contests. One had a mage in brown pitching a group of gibbering goblins against their gray-clad opponent’s swarm of plague-ridden rats. In the opposite corner, a mage in turquoise watched as a squad of spear-wielding pixies probed the floating spirits of a patient-looking mage wearing orange. The last circle was being paced by a short man in a ragged coat, who alternated between calling the action to the raucous onlookers and shilling for bets, and admonishing the young turquoise mage, who was locked in a battle of wills with a purple fighter three times his senior.

Liliana opted against joining any of the circle crowds, and instead made for the bar. Sitting apart from everyone else, nursing a mug of ale, was a tall man in a half-cloak, its edge embroidered with subtle swirls of metal thread. He didn’t radiate power as much as quietly seethe with it, and that alone made him worth her attention. Perhaps he was what had tickled her instincts across the planes.

She perched on the stool beside him, carefully not drawing attention as the barkeep approached.

“Care for a drink, miss?” The man behind the bar was amiable, and his breath didn’t stink too much. A minor miracle, that.

“Wine, if you have any,” she replied. The bartender looked a bit puzzled, then dropped out of sight to begin rummaging through bottles. He eventually produced a dark bottle covered in a fine layer of dust. He dug up a glass after some loud rummaging, and wiped it clean with the corner of his apron. The bottle’s label depicted an armored warrior in Estark’s iconic Arena doing battle what some sort of wyvern or dragon whelp. She picked up the bottle, frowning at the gaucheness of the spectacle in general and this bottle in particular, and poured.

At least it didn’t taste too terrible.

Having paid for her seat, she turned her senses to the man next to her. Following the scent of mana to this location hadn’t been difficult — it was removed enough from the common folk that the House fighter-mages could practice their skills in relative anonymity against members of other Houses. But this man, far from the revelry, was the most likely source of what she’d felt way out in Ravnica.

Along with the inscrutable and unwelcome dread that twisted in her stomach.

Her perception brushed up against her neighbor’s soul the way a teasing dancer would brush silk against a handsome member of their audience. What are you all about, handsome?

His response, metaphorically, was grabbing her wrist and staring into her eyes.

A chill ran down her spine and she broke contact as his head turned her way. A single eye burned under his brow, the other concealed by a dark patch, decorated with subtle swirls of embroidery that matched those of his half cloak. Liliana knew containment enchantments when she saw them. He wasn’t just hiding something. He was holding something back.

“Who are you, and why are you here?” His voice was quiet, crackling with power, tinged with weariness.

She rested her chin on one hand, the glass of wine in the other. “My name is Liliana Vess. And I’m here because I’m like you — powerful and misunderstood.”

His mouth twitched. “I highly doubt we’re anything alike.”

A smile touched at her lips. “Best way to find out is to get to know one another.” She crossed her legs, letting the slit of her skirt spread towards the floor.

It barely got a glance from the man. Liliana had to fight down a disappointed pout. Jace is more fun.

“I’m not in the mood for this sort of thing. Get to the point.”

The pout emerged like a ghoul from the shadows. “You really know how to take the wind out of a girl’s sails.”

His eye closed and he took a deep breath. “Miss Vess, I don’t mean any disrespect. I am simply trying to keep to myself and drink. I wanted to avoid attention. Which is why I came here.”

“Oh, I understand that entirely.” She took a sip of wine. Letting it breathe had helped reduce the bitterness. “I’ve spent a long time avoiding the attention of some truly heinous beings.” She studied his face for a moment. Not unattractive, and the silver shot through his dark hair and featuring especially at his temples made him look distinguished. “You know, when a lady gives you her name, it’s customary to give yours.”

He nodded. “Most would call me Garth.”

“And what do you call yourself?”

“Widowed.”

Pieces snapped into place in Liliana’s head. Her expression did not change.

“What was her name?”

“Rakel.”

“She must have been quite a woman, to get through that tough veneer of yours.”

He said nothing, but drank deeply of his ale.

A cry went up from the circle where the battle of wills had been taking place. Garth turned. The young turquoise mage extended a hand to the weary-looking purple man, who shook it. The caller in the raggedy coat gleefully collected bets from the crowd. A ghost of a smile, an expression of pride, flickered across Garth’s face.

Curiouser and curiouser. What are they to him?

Before she could investigate further, the door of the tavern began to shake in its frame. Repeated, strong blows from outside rattled against it. The fighter-mages dismissed their summoned servants as they turned towards what could be a real threat. When the door splintered, the source was revealed: several figures, elves and humans, all bearing various metals in their skins that looked like infections. Liliana felt the dread in her stomach turn to acidic horror. At least when she took control of servants, they were already dead, mindless and bent to her will since they had none of their own. Jace’s cloak must have carried some of his telepathy, because she could feel the torment of these living things pressed into the service of some insidious, cold agenda, bound to a hive-mind of boundless ambition and callous disregard for life.

Garth shot to his feet. His jaw twitched. Magic surged within him, a feeling undeniable to the planeswalking necromancer.

“Hammen,” he snapped.

Both the man in the ragged coat and the young turquoise mage moved to join him. Garth flung half of his cloak aside, freeing his right arm, and swept his hand in an arc before him. A circle of protection shimmered into being around them as Liliana drew in her power, light from the scars of her contracts burning to life.

At the same time, the other fighter-mages and some of the commoners rushed the intruders.

They never stood a chance.

Screams of the dying and infected rang through the tavern. Liliana seized the dead with her power as they fell, raising them again to protect her and the others on their side of the tavern from the onslaught. Garth summoned knights and spirits, some resembling elves, others treefolk. The invaders that reached them were rebuffed by Garth’s circle, save for a bestial thing that crashed through it undeterred. Before anyone else could act, Garth let out a savage bellow, lashing out with pure power to smash it to the ground, shattering it to pieces. He staggered back, grunting, a hand to his head.

That was something Liliana hadn’t felt in a while. It was an assault that had lacked Jace’s practiced, smug precision or Tamiyo’s patient, whimsical aplomb. It had been raw, unfettered psychic might, to a degree that it harmed the user almost as much as the target. She looked down at the circle that was protecting them from the infected elves; none of the humans had made it past the other fighter-mages.

This was old magic. Powerful spells unseen in the planes in some time.

Who are you?

Liliana turned her attention back to the fight at hand, rending the lifeforce from the infected elves, considering it a mercy to end their miserable servitude. No sooner had the last few crumpled to the ground than the whole wall of the tavern was smashed, the support beams barely keeping the roof intact. Some foolish youngster had conjured fire, and it was spreading. By the flickering, dangerous light, Liliana and Garth could make out the sight of a hulking form that had made its explosive entrance. It was a dark, spindly, horrible thing, and as fighter-mages lashed out with damaging spells, they fell away, power disintegrating from their minds. Unable to coordinate their strikes, the horror kept coming, straight for Liliana and Garth.

More horrors poured in after it. Liliana felt the dread within her growing to a nearly overwhelming level. The pressure of these things’ presence meant there was no time to planeswalk to safety. She raised every single corpse within sight and threw them between the circle and the oncoming horrors.

One of them reached for the man in the ragged coat, who cried out as he tried to raise a circle of his own.

“Damn it.” Garth’s jaw could have been set in stone. His neck muscles strained against his skin. His tension was a palpable thing, a bowstring drawn so taut it might snap in two. “Damn it all.”

He reached up and ripped the patch from his eye. Liliana glanced his way. The eye under the patch was intact, but it was golden with a vertical slit, glowing in the firelight, a start contrast to the dark, natural blue of the other. The skin around the golden eye was covered in scar tissue. A flare of power went out from the very center of the man. A Spark. A bright light in the oncoming darkness.

Garth left hand dove into the satchel hanging at his side, pulling out a golden ring. From it hung seven gems. Liliana’s appraising eye almost instantly recognized each one — Diamond. Emerald. Jet. Opal. Pearl. Ruby. Sapphire. Her breath caught in her throat. Garth made a fist in his right hand, took a moment to concentrate as the circle of protection collapsed, and looked up at the oncoming horrors bearing down upon them. He made a pushing gesture, his fist opening in an instant, and with a flash of light and a sound like an iron gong, a sphere resembling a full solar eclipse blossomed into being near the ceiling of the room. Pulled towards it, the horrors began to vanish, disintegrating into nothingness, along with the infected invaders, Liliana’s zombies, and all of the other summoned servants in the burning tavern. Liliana felt the cold pull of a void between the planes, and staring at the source, fought down a surge of terror.

Merciless Eviction, art by Richard Wright

“Run,” Garth said.

The four of them bolted out of the tavern, which began to crumble into the merciless singularity behind them, consuming flames, wood, corrupted bodies, insidious metal — all things. It even began to pull at those too wounded to move quickly, and the bystanders trying to help them. Garth gestured, and the maw to nowhere snapped shut. He turned to the two other male survivors.

“Master,” the man in the ragged coat breathed. “You…”

“This isn’t the time for half-measures or hiding what I am,” Garth said, returning the gems to his satchel. Liliana watched carefully — his use of such power had left him almost translucent, as if he’d been pulled towards another plane against his will. Only returning the gems and their power to his satchel kept him on Dominaria. Interesting.

Garth continued. “These things may be unknown to me, but it’s clear why they came. They came for me, for my experience, for what I paid for in blood so many years ago. Now, as before, I won’t let them fall into the wrong hands. I will not let Rakel’s sacrifice be in vain.” His paused, visibly holding back a tide of emotion. “I need you to take Hammen, and get as far away from me as you can.”

“But, Father…”

“I won’t hear it,” Garth told the young mage. His expression softened. “You fought bravely, both in the ring and against these creatures, and I’m very proud of you. Your mother would be, too. Now, please. Go with Uncle Hadin.”

“I… yes, Father.”

“Master,” Hadin repeated. “You swore to her. You swore never to use Kuthuman’s powers or treasures again. The cost…”

“I didn’t take back what he stole from Oor-tael to keep it tucked away when we’re under such an attack. Nor did I scour the world for the means of our survival just to die now, in this time.” His otherworldly eye flashed dangerously. “This is my home, and I’m going to defend it.”

“It’s mine as well.” Liliana pulled down the hood of Jace’s cloak. “I was born here. I was made here. And I’m not letting these things turn it into some sort of abomination.”

Garth smirked, his first expression even approaching mirth since Liliana had met him. “A necromancer talking about abominations in such terms?”

Liliana leveled her best withering glare at him. “Let’s not get into a competition of hypocrisy. We’ll be here all night.”

“Come on, Hammen,” Hadin said with a note of resignation in his voice. “Your father’s right. As much as I hate to admit it.” He looked up at the tall planeswalker. “I wish I could go with you.”

Garth laid a hand on the smaller man’s shoulder. “I’ve run from threats like this before, old friend. I helped us all run. But we can only run for so long before what we flee catches up with us. This is worse than anything else we’ve seen. And I won’t have it consume you or the rest of us. I need to find out how it was stopped before, and do the same, to the best of my ability. I hope you can understand that.”

Hadin nodded. “I can. We’ll be safe.”

The two turned away and Hadin conjured a portal for them to step through. Garth turned to Liliana.

“I haven’t… walked the planes in quite some time.”

Liliana smiled.

“It’s like falling off the world. You never really forget.” She looked down at the cloak she’d borrowed. Yes, that was the word. “I have some… allies I’d like you to meet. I think they could help.”

Garth nodded. “Let’s not stay away long. I feel like time is going to run out on us very quickly.”

“It always does.”

Mondays are for making or talking about art.

Credits: Magic the Gathering copyright Wizards of the Coast. Liliana Vess art courtesy Xoaba. Merciless Eviction art courtesy Richard Wright.

Reignition, Part 1

Art courtesy Tyler Jacobson

Spoiler
The following is a non-profit work of fan-fiction. Magic: the Gathering and its attendant characters, locations, terminology, and events are owned by Wizards of the Coast, Richard Garfield, Mark Rosewater, et al. All rights reserved. Please support the official release.


Hundreds of years invested in study and spellcraft, and yet, I am scrambling for time.

Teferi was never one to panic. He went about his work diligently but in an unhurried fashion. While his temporal senses were definitely in an agitated state, he himself maintained his control and delicately worked the observation of the timestream. It was precise work: one misstep or incomplete calculation, and he could throw all of Dominaria — and perhaps multiple planes — into absolute chaos.

Perhaps more than any other Planeswalker, he was keenly aware of not repeating the mistakes of the past.

He worked alone. The presence of other mages would have been a distraction, and he could afford no division of his focus. Tomes and scrolled hovered in open states around him as he made his preparations. It would be one of the most powerful and reality-bending spells of his career, but it was necessary, if his home plane was to survive what was coming.

What irked Teferi, in the back of his mind, was the vague nature of the portents. He only knew something was coming. Something both familiar and unfathomable. He’d heard rumors of eldritch horrors on other planes. His research and curiosity had made him oblivious to the details, and disinclined to investigate, until his instincts had grown to insistent to ignore. As one of the most adept archmages with time, wasting it was perhaps Teferi’s biggest pet peeve. And now, even as he made slow and careful motions with his arms to pull the threads of mana together, he felt an urgency that threatened to overcome his concentration with irritation.

There was nothing else for it. Time was running out.

Teferi closed his eyes and let his mind sink into the timestream. It was an old, familiar feeling, a comfort more than anything else. It felt like slowly sliding into a cool, running stream of fresh water, the babbling of the currents a pleasant white noise. So many events and tragedies and triumphs flashed through the mind’s eye of the archmage as he began to search for his objective.

The past was a fragile thing. As he sped through the decades gone by, Teferi kept his mind focused and calm. He had no desire to disrupt the timeline, to split things into fractured alternate possibilities. Truly, if he was to preserve the future of Dominaria, he had to preserve its past as well. He decelerated in his mental movement, his astral form holding up its hands to slow the flow of time as it had been.

There.

One hundred and three years in his past. He was in the right time. Now to the right place.

He spread his astral arms and shot across the surface of the plane like a Bird of Paradise. He left colors of mana in his wake, bleeding the magic he had gathered to make his journey. Again, precision was the watchword; overshoot his destination, and he wouldn’t have enough mana to work the spell he’d spent so many sleepless nights preparing for this moment. The deep greens and pulsing power of Skyshroud was, thankfully, hard to ignore, and he dove towards his final destination, slowing time as he did.

This was the work of split-seconds, of the tiniest fractions of time. He followed the mana, the moments, until he found who he sought. And then, he waited, counting microseconds. He watched movements in slow motion. In his mind’s eye he could see synapses firing, decisions being made, resignation settling in along with satisfaction and acceptance. His heart twinged. This would be hard. He knew it would be difficult to accept. But his choices were few and his time was short.

Now. The space between heartbeats, after the spell had been completed and before the explosion took place.

He reached out with his own mana, the power screaming from his soul. He wrapped himself around the Spark in front of him and pulled. He had done this sort of thing before, giving up his own Spark to save Dominaria when he sealed the time rift over Shiv. This was different, but the concept was similar enough that he’d been able to cobble together this spell. The Spark resisted, having accepted its fate. Teferi set his astral jaw and pulled harder. The moment stretched almost to infinity as the mages fought. Finally, Teferi prevailed, and he mentally tugged the life-line of mana that connected him to the present, taking the Spark with him.

In the present, he pushed the Spark out away from him, despite the hole in his heart calling to it. To take it upon himself would be to completely obliterate the soul attached to it, or at the very least, cast it into the dark void between planes, scattered and fragmented, shades of its former self. This was the last step of his plan, and the most difficult one, as green and white mana had never been his strongest suits.

Sweat on his physical brow, short of breath, Teferi summoned the last of his strength. He drew the remnants of his mana reserves into the final spell, and though his fingers ached and his eyes watered, he finished the incantation and pushed his power into his intent. Slowly, before his eyes, a nervous system began to appear, floating in midair, an eerie scene made all the more macabre when bones and muscles spread from the bright light of the Spark. His teeth ground together as he carefully followed the patterns of the spell and tapped the very foundations of his strength and knowledge. Finally, in a burst of power, with a soft thunderclap and an explosion of force, a body crumpled to the floor before him, naked and steaming and gasping for breath.

He managed to find the green cloak he’d set aside and spread it over the figure before him before he, too, collapsed.

Freyalise art courtesy Adam Paquette

“Hello… Freyalise.” The words came out cracked and halting, his mouth dry and his lungs burning.

“How…” The half-elf’s own voice was wracked with pain and confusion. “How dare you.”

“I had no choice,” Teferi said, managing to sit up. “Don’t worry — you finished the spell. Skyshroud was still saved. Your sacrifice was not in vain.” He reached up to a workbench, pulling down an eyepatch to hand to his friend.

She snatched it from his grip angrily. “By all of the gods in all of the planes, you are an arrogant son of a bitch.”

“I had —”

“No choice, I know.” She donned the eyepatch and sat up herself, pulling the cloak around her more due to the chill in the study than self-consciousness. “You could have taken my Spark for yourself, to do whatever it is you need to do.”

Teferi shook his head. “That is not my fate.”

“Hypocrite!” Freyalise spat on the floor. “You dare speak of fate when you do this to me?”

“You completed your fate,” Teferi replied. “But your particular skills, passion, experience — they are what will be needed to face what is to come.”

“And ‘what is to come,’ Teferi?”

A shiver ran down Teferi’s spine. “I don’t know.”

Freyalise stared at him, the fire in her eye changing from anger to confusion.

“You… don’t know?”

Teferi shook his head.

Freyalise paused. He could see her emotions shifting. They had been allies, once, and had come to know one another well. Her expression softened.

“You’re afraid.”

Teferi nodded.

“That’s something I never thought I’d see.” She rose, looking around the study. “Do you have any clues? Any at all?”

Teferi, slowly, got to his feet. His legs almost didn’t cooperate. He reached out with a tiny, well-practiced spell, and pulled his staff to him with his mind. His mana, at least, was returning.

Not quickly enough.

“I know that something is about to happen here that is both unprecedented and familiar. Revenge and horror wait on the edges of my perception. While I cannot discern details, I know that without you, the plane will fall.”

Freyalise studied the archmage. “What must I do?”

Teferi had always admired Freyalise. In the time leading up to her sacrifice in Skyshroud, she had put aside her selfish ambitions and her pride in light of their association. Her anger at him had been a knee-jerk reaction based on old patterns. Now that she was here, she was ready to give even more to save their home. Teferi had been counting on that, but still felt a bit less terrified seeing it for himself.

Hope is all I have.

He turned to a bookshelf nearby, stepping over the fallen tomes and scrolls he’d needed to rescue Freyalise in that split-second between completing her spell and dying for Dominaria. He found the spellbook he sought, turned, and handed it to the half-elf.

“You need to take this to Karn. Find him, bring him here, and help him study the text. He’ll understand.”

“How do you know?”

“That’s the only thing I know for sure about the future. It’s so dark for me. And I think I know why.”

Before he could elaborate, the study shifted around them. Bookshelves groaned and flagstones rattled, slowly lifting from the hardwood beneath as the grout splintered between them. The mages turned as one towards the undeniable source. Freyalise reached instinctively for a weapon, and murmured an elven curse when she found none.

“Go,” Teferi said. “Get out of here.”

“I am not going to leave you after you just saved my life.”

“I did not save your life only for you to lose it here.”

“You are too weak,” Freyalise insisted. “I can help!”

“Help me by finding Karn!” Teferi looked over his shoulder. “Please! Go!”

Freyalise stared at her ally, swallowing. Teferi managed a smile.

“Seeing you here, Freyalise… I’m not afraid anymore. I can face this. Please. Go.”

After a moment in which she might have protested one more time, Freyalise nodded. With a soft pop of imploding air, she was gone. The trail of mana lead back to Skyshroud. Teferi worked a brief spell to mask that trail, mixing it with the ambient noise of magic in his study. The effort almost made him pass out. Freyalise was right — he was weak.

But he would face this the way she had faced her sacrifice a century before. Bravely, calmly, knowing he had done all he could to save his home.

The bookshelves bent out of the way of a dark, swirling gateway to another plane. Teferi turned to face it, mouth twisting in disgust. It had neither the elegance nor cleanliness of a Planeswalker’s transition from one plane to another. Dull, shadowy metal tendrils reached through the portal’s edges to keep the portal open as small creatures crawled through, chattering one to the other in an odd machine tongue. Darksteel Myr, carrying an undeniable corruption.

Teferi gripped his staff, readying what mana he could.

It all dissipated when the figure stepped through the portal behind the myr.

He — it? — was tall. Piercing blue eyes studied Teferi, dark brown hair rustling in the unnatural wind of the portal. Beneath the sideburns, Teferi could see tendrils of darksteel sunk into pallid flesh like claws. The figure’s clothes were a hodgepodge of magical armor and bare skin, married with splotches consistent with phthisis and more swirls of seething darksteel. Teferi felt tears sting his eyes.

“No.” His voice was a whisper. “Not you.”

“Teferi of Jamuraa. You have been chosen by the Expeditionary Forces of New Phyrexia. You shall serve as an example of the glorious new order.”

The response was not conveyed in one voice, but many. He heard grinding gears, skittering legs, bubbling oil. He heard the screeching of corrupted birds, the hiss of insidious soldiers, the soft whispers of Praetors.

And, under it all, the anguish of an old friend.

“No. Venser. Oh, no.”

The figure smiled. It was a parody of an expression. It was as if the Praetors knew how human expressions worked but were ignorant of their meaning. It was a chilling sight.

“The one you call ‘Venser’ serves as our voice in this plane,” the Phyrexians said. “He has been perfected in line of our unified vision. All shall be aligned under the banner of Phyrexia. From this moment forward, you too shall serve us.”

“I would rather die.”

“You cannot serve us if you are dead. You cannot help us bring peace if you our dead. Submit to us and you shall not feel pain.”

Teferi set his jaw. He knew this battle would be short and full of anguish. But he was buying Freyalise time. He was buying Karn time. He knew others would come, to stand against a new invasion, a re-ignition of old threats to Dominaria.

But other ignitions would take place. That much, now, he could see.

They were lights of hope in the darkness of his future.

“Come on,” Teferi said to the Phyrexian marionette made of his old friend. “Show me this ‘new order’ of yours. And I will show you how Dominaria will respond.”

The ‘perfected’ Venser hadn’t stopped smiling.

“There is no response to Phyrexia save submission. And you will submit just as Dominaria will submit. All shall be Phyrexian. All shall be beautiful. All shall be peace. That is the future you cannot see. Come; let us make you a part of it.”

Mondays are for making or talking about art.

Credits: Magic the Gathering copyright Wizards of the Coast. Teferi, Temporal Archmage art courtesy Tyler Jacobson. Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury art courtesy Adam Paquette.

The Unicorn And The Cat

“Tell me a sweet story,” she asked me, via instant message. “Please. With cats. And a unicorn.”

Standing in my friend’s kitchen at their birthday party, I thought for just a few moments. I smiled. And then I began.

Once upon a time, a unicorn felt entirely alone. The forest was vast, and deep, and beautiful, but it could be so lonely.

The unicorn roamed the paths through the forest, following traces of scent and bits of hoof-broken twig. Their first find was a young doe; sweet, but not a unicorn.

They next found a stag, white and wise, who treated the unicorn with respect and kindness, but still was not a unicorn.

(“Wait. Does the unicorn have purple hair?” “If you want them to!” “Okay!”)

The stag, hearing the unicorn’s story, asked them simply, “Have you asked the cats?”

The unicorn paused. They had run into cats before. Cats were furry and affectionate, but could turn so quickly. The unicorn had scars to tell that tale.

“I understand your fear and hesitation,” said the white stag. “But you must be honest with the cats, and with yourself. If you are nothing but honest, they will never stop helping you.”

The unicorn, so thankful, went to find the cats. The unicorn talked of how lonely they were, how they wished to just find another of their kind, and how they had been lead here by the stag. The cats were silent for a long time.

Then a long, lean, female black cat said quietly, “Follow me.”

The unicorn paused again. Black cats were said to be unlucky.
“Why do you wait?” asked the cat.
“They say you’re unlucky,” the unicorn said honestly.
“Then rely not on luck, but on your hooves and my guidance.”

The path of the cat lead her and the unicorn into a bog. It was smelly and dark and the mire sucked at the unicorn’s hooves. The unicorn held their head high to shed more light, and the cat hissed.
“This makes it easier for me to see,” said the unicorn.
“But I am the one who knows the way,” snapped the cat, “and your light will not save you from what it attracts. Douse it.”

The unicorn doused their light, and the sounds of the mire crept in around them. For a long moment, nothing happened. Then something jumped on the unicorn’s head!

It was the cat! She turned around and pawed at the unicorn’s horn. “I will guide us,” said the cat.
“Are you ready? Are you afraid?”

The unicorn remembered the advice of the stag. They wanted to say they were not afraid of anything, and they were always ready. After all, unicorns are pure magic! But that would have been a lie.
“I am ready,” the unicorn said, “but I am afraid.”

“Good,” said the cat. “Only fools do not fear the unknown. And cats do not suffer fools.”

With the cat’s paw batting at their horn, the unicorn was guided through the mire, down into a gorge crawling with spiders, and over a ravine that had no bottom. Through it all, the unicorn answered the cat’s questions honestly, only after asking themselves and being sure of the truth, first.

At last, they came to a great glade by a river. In it, the unicorn at last happened across another of their kind! But once more, they paused.

“I’m afraid,” said the unicorn to the cat. “I have faced darkness, danger, and impossible peril, and here before me is what I seek, and it fills me with more fear than anything that’s come before.”

“How did you survive those things?” The cat watched the unicorn carefully.
“I was honest, with you and with myself.”
“Do this,” said the cat, “and you cannot fail this other of your kind.”
“Is it that easy?”
“Yes,” said the cat, gold eyes glittering, “and that terrifying.”

The unicorn blinked. “Why did you guide me all this way?”
“This stream has the tastiest salmon in the entire forest,” said the cat. “With this in my belly, I will easily become queen.”
“Why did you not come yourself?”
“I could not navigate the mire or gorge or ravine on my little paws. You were most helpful.”
“But how will you get back?”
The cat shrugged. “I will figure something out. I’m clever.”

The unicorn went to the other, told their story, and was completely honest.
After some thought, the other unicorn agreed. They approached the cat.

“We will take you home,” the unicorn said. “You helped me get here, and meet another of my kind. The least I can do is help win your throne.”

“You don’t want to stay here, after searching so long for this new home?”
“I do,” said the unicorn honestly, “but I will not leave you so far from yours. That is not how unicorns are.”

“And besides,” said the unicorn, “anywhere there is more than one of us together, we can make a home that rivals any throne. Such is the power of our magic, and our love.”

“Salmon first,” said the cat, “then my throne.”
“So it shall be,” said the unicorn.

And so it was.

The end.

Flash Fiction: Walking Widdershins

Lifeless Beauty

The coldest winter winds have teeth. No matter how much down or Gore-Tex you might layer on yourself, an invisible blade slices right through the center of you, pushing a chill into the marrow of your bones. It can be a fleeting thing, a momentary brush against the heart of you by a passing lover with the coldest of fingertips, or a constant howling sensation, a driving force with razor-keen edges that cut through your meat without remorse, leaving you with discomfort bordering on agony.

It’s a hell of a way to remember you’re alive.

Somehow, the tent managed to stay up all night. The sleeping bag kept out most of the cold at bay, but you can still feel the latent bits of cold in your bones from last night’s walking. You tumble out of the protection of the fabric layers and emerge from the tent into harsh, clear sunlight. It’s still cold, colder than anything you’d feel back home, but better now that it’s morning. You get a fire going, set out your little steel pot to heat some water, and sit outside of your tent to look towards your goal.

The jagged peaks of the mountains are partially obscured by low-hanging clouds. The front is moving over the summits like a living, seething mass of gray. It’s odd how something so massive, so ancient, so implacably solid can at once seem closer than it ever has before, and impossibly far away. The mind struggles to process the scale of the mountains in and of themselves, to say nothing of the journey one must undertake to reach said mountains, ascend their heights, and return safely to tell the tale.

You know that last part is going to be the trickiest.

You pour your hot water into the coffee pot and use the rest to saturate some oatmeal. As you chew on your breakfast, you take an inventory of your remaining provisions. The dried fruit and pressed bars of protein make your stomach growl, but you remember that you have a long way to go. The berries and roots that helped keep the edge off of your hunger are behind you, and ahead is a wide expanse of desolation. You don’t know what, if anything, grows on or near the mountains. Mushrooms in caves, perhaps? You close up your bag so you can stop thinking about it. You turn your attention to your breakfast and try to soak up as much sunlight as you can. The clouds give you pause.

Undertaking any sort of journey into the wild or the unknown is fraught with perils and subject to uncertainty and doubt. Those who step outside of their comfort zones, away from civilization, and strive towards something distant or inscrutable aren’t taking a safe trip. Preparations can be made, certainly, and the more informed the traveler is, the better their chance for survival, but complete safety is an illusion. Keeping one’s wits about them is the best safety measure that can be taken, and leads to other measures such as survival gear, maps, rationing, and situational awareness. To head out into the fringes and return safe home is not for the faint of heart or soft of brain.

The wind picks up, a herald of the storm front, and you know it’s time to move on.

You douse your fire, put your coffee in a canteen to be slung at your hip, and scarf the rest of your breakfast. Breaking down the tent takes a mere handful of minutes, but another gust of wind reminds you that time is no longer on your side. If it ever was. In less time than it takes to tell, you’ve shouldered your pack and are once again on your way. Your long staff picks out sturdy places to set your boots, and before long you’ve settled into a familiar, driving pace, teeth set in a defiant grin against the oncoming storm.

When the clouds engulf the sun and the sleet begins to fall, you begin walking widdershins.

Not in tight circles or as part of any sort of ritual. But bearing to your left, slightly away from the direction of the wind, deflecting some of the teeth in those gusts. Nobody ever taught you this was a ‘proper’ way of weathering storms, but it always felt right to you. There are all sorts of stories and superstitions about walking widdershins around churches or graveyards, and a part of you has been quite curious if doing so would ever land you in some truly outlandish situations. But, so far, all it has done is kept you alive and focused through meteorological onslaughts like this one.

You lower your goggles and raise your scarf over your mouth and nose. Through the oncoming freezing rain you still see the mountains. You find your footing, take your step towards them, and bear a bit to the left. You smile behind the woven wool. Widdershins.

The cold drives us. It keeps us alive. It reminds us that it is good that we’re alive.

And when the storms descend on us, and we might lose sight of what we’re heading towards, we have to keep heading towards it anyway, in whatever fashion we can.

Traipse through the wilderness. Walk widdershins. And leave the mediocre, and the past, behind.


The following was prompted by Chuck Wendig over at Terribleminds. The image is Lifeless Beauty by Daniel Bosma.

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