The lift was a peculiar contraption to behold. It was like a giant chute running from floor to ceiling, with a rather concerning mount of fraying on the ropes that prevented the platform from careening to the ground. They were already a few floors up, but this small district boasted around twenty floors. There was a lever the jutted out from a hole in the floor, crafted into a large sturdy cog (the first sturdy wooden thing Tarklie had seen all day). She peered over the chute and it was nothing more than a sheer drop. Tarklie wondered how many residents had made the pit at the bottom their new permanent home.
“The platform is above, push the lever forward and wait for it to come down.”
Perfect, Tarklie was now Maris’ new lift operator. She should have known Maris would want to get her hand dirty doing a job so beneath her.
She passed the spear across to Maris who tried to hold it with a finger and thumb so as not to dirty her hands. She miscalculated just how heavy the thing was and it nearly clattered to the ground before she thrust both hands out to stop its fall.
“I don’t know how you carry this around all day darling; I’m utterly exhausted just looking at it.”
Tarklie pushed the lever forward, and the ropes began to run in opposite directions with an initial creak. Every few rotations of a wheel the rope looked like it might give in from the weight, but it continued turning on. From above the wooden platform lowered from view and Tarklie pulled back on the lever to stop it just short of the landing. It looked about as comforting as an obliterator’s jaws and hung on a slight slant. Tarklie turned to Maris with a look of distrust.
“This is safe?” She pointed at where the level was askew.
“You’re more likely to get your toes gnawed off by the dead at night than you are to die in one of these things.” She ushered Tarklie forward. “But if you don’t mind, after you.”
Tarklie shook her head. “Ladies first.”
As if by command Ting wheeled himself onto the lower end of the platform. The ropes made no noise and it held fast.
“See! Nothing to be-“ Maris slowly wandered on next to her brave little companion and platform immediately began to groan and bump gentle against its rails. She held her arms out to balance. “They can be temperamental.”
Tarklie reluctantly placed a foot over the threshold and stepped gently next to Maris as the whole thing creaked once more. A seasoned solider, fearless of the odds of war and one who had faced hundreds of Phyrexians, now terrified of being killed by a contraption made by a race of humans who could barely look after themselves. She shuffled over to Maris and relieved her of the spear.
“You can push the lever this time.” Tarklie said, as her body went rigid in preparation for the ride of her life.
Maris put a hand on her chest. You mean me? With these hands? She scowled and leaned across, planting both feet in front of the innermost lever strapped to the platform’s centre and tugged. The platform sprang to life and began to rise with a little more speed than Tarklie was comfortable with. Maris stood and looked on at the inner walls in indifference, patiently waiting with her hands folded in front of her. She occasionally stole a glance at Tarklie, rigid and stoic but showing more than a little uneasiness in her stomach region. A small grin appeared on Maris’ lips. One of Ting’s arms unfolded and patted Tarklie on her greaves.
Maris pulled the lever bringing the lift to a stop after numerous floors had been passed. They were near the very top of this massive district, but the floor was so sturdily built and obstructed the view below, Tarklie’s brain was unable to process how high they might be. They stepped out the lift, Tarklie shuffled, and Maris walked straight on producing a key from nowhere. She walked forward to a door with a lock, this one significantly more durable than the one Ting had dismantled earlier, and spun her key around. Before opening it she turned around to face Tarklie.
“There are things in here that do not mix well with spears and shields. Our first order of business is putting that shield and spear away someplace isolated and then getting that armour off and making you look a little more… amiable?”
“People do seem to stare.” Tarklie nodded.
Maris flung the door open and strutted inside, Ting whizzed off somewhere beyond the entryway and made himself scarce. Tarklie wandered in after Maris and marvelled at the extravagance of the place. The floor was laden with numerous rugs and carpets, ranging from intricate patterns to thick furry hides. Along one wall was a seating area laden with chunky furs and pillows surrounding a small table at its centre. Across to the left was a stone shelf running along one wall, stacked with cups and plates next to boxes of foods and strange liquids in glass bottles. There were two doors on the opposing wall.
“Shut the door behind you if you please. You can put your shield and beatstick under the shelf the plates are on.” Maris said, as she slunk behind one of the doors into another room.
Tarklie placed down her spear with a muffled clang and began to unstrap the shield from her crippled arm. It had grown sore and achy after bearing so much weight for so long, and she couldn’t wait to feel the release of blood. Sometimes she could feel the blood rushing to a phantom limb, and despite the small pang of sadness, it brought a strange sense of relief. She walked over to the sitting area, placed herself down on one of the more comfier piles of fabrics, and began to unbuckle her boots. Maris began talking from behind the door.
“Now I don’t take you for a woman of taste – You’re more practical boring ‘I need to swing my limbs, or what few I have, around’. That doesn’t mean we can entirely give up on making you look vaguely dignified.” Maris squeezed around from behind the door, a pair of below-knee brown leather boots in one hand, and a pile of double quilted leather gear in the other.
“It’s no platemail, but its strong sturdy stuff. It’ll make you a little more flexible and a little more forgettable in the eyes of common folk. I’ve had male employees in the past, so this should fit your more… strong stature. A woman would certainly kill for that jawline.” Maris tossed the pile at Tarklie.
Tarklie had tossed off her boots towards the door and stood up to Maris and turned around.
“I’ll need help removing this cuirass. There are two belted clasps on each shoulder, and three down the left side.” She pulled her mane of brilliant hair around to one side and lifted an arm.
“Oh my, this is getting a touch personal.” Maris slapped Tarklie’s thigh and began working away at the fastenings.
Within a few moments she peeled the armour away from Tarklie, pulled down her chain pants and threw it all next to the boots. She looked back at Tarklie’s tunic and briefs, they were dirty and sweat stained, weathered from days of fighting and running. It made Maris’ heart sink a little that she was walking around in such a state.
“Give me a moment.” She sprang back in the room and returned with some thick cotton padded pants and a fresh green tunic. “This green should work nicely with your hair. Take yours off and I’ll burn the lot. Seems a fitting way to forget this whole mess.”
Tarklie slipped off her remaining garments. Maris couldn’t help but stare at her bizarre Mirran form – Metal traces ran along her bone structure in symmetrical canals. Her skin went from supple flesh to deep iron tones around her shoulders, and her spin was inlaid with a rigid steel-like structure. Her calves were human, but as the skin worked around to the fronts of her shins, it was like her body had built-in metal pads, operating as a kind of incorporated armour. Maris noted that it ran up her neck and through to her skull, but it was entirely obscured by her flowing volumes of bright copper hair and platinum streaks.
Tarklie slipped on the green tunic and pulled up the soft shorts. She began to pull the quilted jerkin over her head and Maris approached to help fasten up the laces.
“Were you… made like this?” She asked Tarklie, as she ran her hands along the metal veins running up her spine.
“Where I come from, we are all like this. This is how we grow.” Tarklie said in a matter of fact tone.
Maris traced scars and dense patches where skin had been removed and healed over time. There were cuts in the skin and dents in the metal, significant chunks missing in areas around her rubs where blows had glanced off the metal and taken pieces with it.
“They are from countless battle with the Phyrexians.” Tarklie said, slipping on the shorts over her legs and lifting the tunic to cover her body. “The war took more than a physical toll on us all.”
“You’ll have to fill me in during out talk. Get your gear on my giantess, I’ll pour us some wine and throw together something to fill your stomach. There is much to talk about, but I can’t have your metallic extremities snagging at my furs.” For once, Maris gave Tarklie a sincere comforting smile.
They sat together on the seating, eating and drinking mostly in silence. Tarklie was too busy filling her face with bread and cheese and whatever this liquid Maris called “wine”. It wasn’t thirst quenching but it provided her with a very unusual sense of liberation. Maris looked on in both disgust and enjoyment. She detested the company of most people, but Tarklie was a unique experience for her, and looking after someone who seemed so appreciative of her offers gave her a sense of pride. She knew she owed her for her services thus far.
“Never tasted wine before then? You’re what, thirty years old and you haven’t even gotten drunk off the fumes of a sneaky homemade concoction at least?” Maris peeked down at the small pile of blankets, checking for signs of stains. Tarklie ate like a savage in her desperate state, but she was at least considerate.
“I haven’t really kept count of my age in a few years since Mirrodin was under siege for so long. At a guess I’d say I’m closer to thirty six.” Tarklie spoke around the lump of pulverized food in one side of her mouth, brought the wine up to her lips and washed it down. “I certainly feel older.”
“I must admit I prefer being the younger of the bunch. Still, you’ve not got much on me. My wilder days are long since gone. I think I might’ve had at least three twenty ninth birthday celebrations.”
Tarklie popped her cup and plate down on the floor, wiping her face of crumbs into her lap and then flapping them onto her plate. Maris appreciated the gesture despite dozens of wild crumbs finding places to deposit themselves amongst the throws. Maris put her own cup down and took both their plates away before returning and sitting cross-legged directly across from Tarklie.
“Tell me your story and I will tell you mine. Tell me no lies and I shall do the same, plus I’m better at it than you so you’d never win anyway. If we can accept one another as we are, I will try to help you find home, or peace, or both. I believe we are both cleared of one another’s debts, so from here we can decide where our fate leads.” Maris put out a hand. “Deal?”
Tarklie looked down at the hand for a moment. Could Maris finally be willing to lay bare her real intentions? Tarklie still didn’t entirely trust her companion, but they had looked after each other thus far. If she didn’t like what she was hearing, they could part ways as amicable equals.
“You have a deal Lady Maris.” She took her hand and shook it firmly.
“I do so enjoy it when you call me that.” Maris mused.
Tarklie spoke for what felt like hours, detailing life on Mirrodin before the Phyrexian invasion, the early days and how far and wide it had spread. She told her of Koth, of his ability to walk the planes, of the encampment and her role as a commander in the remaining Mirran resistance. She detailed the metal landscape of her home, the five suns, the five praetors of the Phyrexian force and how hard they survivors had tried to overthrow the inevitable tide. She held no details back, from the moment she set foot into Kuldotha to the end when Koth strapped a device to her chest and she flew through an impossible hell of images and fire. The only detail she refrained from sharing was the entity she met there, the one that called her “little one”. Tarklie explained to Maris how Phyresis worked, changed metal into flesh and incorporating the two together in a sick unholy matrimony. By the time she had finished explaining the final fight of Kemba and her small legion, Maris’ eyes were wide and her face in awe of what she was hearing.
“You are all that’s left?” She asked with sad confusion.
Tarklie simply nodded with a glum expression.
“And this Koth, he walked what called were planes. Perhaps your Mirrodin is a plane, and Grixis is another plane. He sent you on one of his walks. Perhaps he can he find you here?” Maris was blitzing through theories in her head.
“No, he made clear that saving me was a sacrifice. I am the only Mirran that has survived the fall of Mirrodin. I am stuck here now.” Tarklie spread her arms around the room.
Maris was busy with the inner workings in her head. Planes. Grixis and Bant and all the shards. Mirrodin, a world of metal.
“I think… I think Grixis is a plane, and so are the other four shards. Something happened long ago that made them join, allowing inhabitants of each plane to march across the borders and invade.” Maris tapped her chin. “How far did you walk in this black hell of images? Was it like walking across a door? Perhaps you can simply walk back if we find a spot on the edge of Grixis?”
“I think Koth sent me far, far away from Mirrodin. I must accept I cannot go back. There is simply nothing to go back to. This is my fate.” Tarklie nodded, washing away the sorrow from her face and replacing it with an expression of fierce determination.
Maris appreciated what Tarklie was trying to do, but she could see right through the hollow gesture. She had to soak it all in. She also had to consider how to best lay bare her rather extraordinarily outlandish life of thrills. She sat before a principled soldier who had cut through the nonsense with militaristic altruism, something that Maris had actively avoided for most of her adult life.
“I suppose it’s my turn then.” She raised her eyebrows and threw her glance to a blank spot on the ceiling.