Let’s move on to another one of the nu-Origin five walkers, one that takes on the role of Persecutor in our Karpman Drama Triangle. Here we dive into the seriously mentally ill persona of Liliana Vess, whom I can find numerous mental health parallels in history, most notably in John Nash, the famous Mathematician. In order for the Drama Triangle to arise, a person must take on the role of Victim or Persecutor. Our first example of this occurrence is between our focus character, Liliana, and future Victim, Jace Beleren. Persecutors typically blame everyone else for everything, insisting something is their fault. Persecutors are typically controlling (Liliana has successfully bent the Gatewatch to her desires), blaming, critical, oppressive, angry and superior (we know Liliana has a serious god complex stemming from her dabbling in the dark arts). Each participant in this triangle takes on their role by acting upon their own selfish needs – something Liliana has done since day 0.
Liliana grew up on the most important (arguably) plane in the multiverse, Dominaria. Her father was a general and ruler, possibly for the Forward Order (a load of chaps fighting some dark force, possibly Belzenlok’s cabal). She had a name for herself as a bit of a hussy (that’s slang for hoe), and because of daddy’s extremely high ranking profile, this would inevitably bring on family meetings of “you’re bringing shame to my name”. Liliana cared little of her reputation, so from her absolute origins, we’re told she pretty much doesn’t care about anyone or anything other than herself. We also discover she’s a somewhat gifted sorceress/wizard whatever you want to classify her as. Possibly a cleric, I guess? She learned the healing arts from a lass called Lady Ana, similar to Gideon’s Hixus, however being the blasé cleric that she was, she thought necromancy would assist in her healing career. It’s an odd parallel to draw between two opposites but then I know nothing of the dark arts or restoration so who am I to judge her conclusions. She wanted a shortcut to be better, because that’s just Liliana. The shortest and simplest solution is always best, a self-destructive behaviour that will follow her and essentially rule her life from this point onwards.
Her father’s enemies corrupted her brother Josu with some sort of curse. Now this is where a crackpot theory comes in. If indeed her father’s enemies were the cabal under the rule of Belzenlok, then it ties one of Liliana’s four demons into her storyline long before she makes her pacts with them. One might posit that Liliana’s life had already been woven by a scheme spanning her entire life. This leads her to a test by Lady Ana, which in turn leads her to the Raven Man. That leads her to Bolas, who then brokers the deals with her four demons, including Belzenlok, which then follows on to the Chain Veil storyline where the Raven Man then takes charge of her future interests. So whose scheme is Liliana’s life led by? Bolas, or this mysterious Lim DulRaven Man? Anyway, Lady Ana tells her she needs to acquire Esis root to cure her brother. Her father’s enemies have conveniently burned down the grove where this tree grows.
She learns this when a curious man appears with the information. He then encourages Liliana to use her necromantic powers to revive the tree and make a potion out of it. Seems legit. It is at this point we can conclude Liliana is quite young and naïve, since undoubtedly a present day Liliana would have easily seen past this and probably let her brother die before raising him as a servant. Unfortunately Liliana loves her shortcuts, and loves to prove people wrong, so despite warnings from Lady Ana, she uses it on her brother. It cures him, but basically turns him into a shambling horror.
A late teens early twenties girl, with little to no care for reputation or anyone but herself, zero desire for strict rules and guidelines, has taken her first massive shortcut. This in turn has forced her to witness her own family in a state of undeath, then forcing her to kill said undead brother. This is akin to you saying “damn the doctors” and giving your big sister cancer with the “best intentions”, then being forced to euthanize her. That is entirely fucked up, and very much easy to gloss over as a reader interpreting fantasy fiction. She sparks, and ends up on Innistrad – plane of zombies, stitched abominations and general gloom and doom horror. If any plane epitomises a person’s past nightmares, it is a perfect fit for Liliana. But she embraces it instead of running away. Despite her trauma she remains headstrong, it seems.
She studies under vampires and liches, becomes a master necromancer, but she stops short. They recommend she joins them in death fully to master necromancy, but the trauma of what her brother became stops her from fully committing to her path. She is not entirely without sense, and like Tezzeret, is living life by pure instinct for survival.
Eventually Sorin discovers she’s on Innistrad, and Sorin is a very old, very powerful and very solitary planeswalker that suffers no fools. He utterly stomps Liliana, to the point he deems her too paltry a threat to deal with. He allows her to be a guest on his home plane and play nice, or he’ll kill her. Just ask Nahiri how that goes. So the plane she’s adopted as her home is now yet another metaphorical set of rules that will remind her of her father. She returns to Dominaria after she’s confident she’s powerful enough to take on the Raven Man, but he miraculously escapes. Yet another failure for Vess.
Between then and Ravnica, it’s revealed that the mending happened, and Liliana is no longer all powerful, or immortal. Being the vain, shortcut taker that she is, she mixes up with Bolas and brokers a deal with a demon for more power. She uses that deal to make another, and another until her soul is eventually beholden by no more than four demons. In exchange for youth and power, she must serve the demons, and this is where she gets her tattoos from, eternally reminder her and everyone else that Liliana sold her soul for life eternal.
After some time, Liliana becomes mixed in with Bolas’/Tezzeret’s Infinite Consortium, sort of as a freelancer I suppose. After Jace defects from the group, Liliana is tasked with tracking him down. She befriends Jace and his accomplice Kallist (whom Jace will later swap consciousness with), and then has an affair with Jace. She stays loyal to Jace through a number of bizarre happenings, including ye olde consciousness swap story. It’s then revealed she was using Jace in order to remove Tezzeret as the leader of the Infinite Consortium. Liliana had sold her soul to Nicol Bolas of all people (just ask Tezzeret how that went), and this was one of her many tasks.
Liliana is altruistic. She dislikes rules and regulations, but now finds herself under the thumb of a 25,000 year old elder dragon planeswalker, and four demons that lay claim to her soul. In true Liliana fashion, she has ideas on how she can most easily escape said deals in the bluntest ways imaginable, but she hasn’t quite had the push to get her ego that big yet. Enter Kothophed and the Chain Veil.
Kothophed calls in a favour, and Liliana must obey. She’s sent to retrieve the Chain Veil, and ancient artifact from the now extinct Onnake civilisation on Shandalar. On her way, she’s attacked by one of Garruk’s Packleaders and kills it. My main man Garruk witnesses this, and decides she’s a target. Liliana retrieves the Veil and then Garruk attacks. Using the surprisingly powerful artifact, Liliana very easily sends Garruk on a Shandalar escape trajectory, and begins to muse at how much power is at her fingertips now. She wanders to a fortress on a random plane and utterly annihilates it, because the best way to test an artifact belonging to a race that is now entirely dead is to use it to wipe out another. She considers, and the urges to release herself from the thrall of Kothophed is too great, so she planeswalks and blast the demon to high hell. Her tattoos begin to bleed, which disturbs her somewhat. In true “simplest solution is best” she resolves that in order to make this pain stop, she’ll just kill the rest of her demons.
So, Liliana has gone from accidentally killing her brother with good intentions, to an egotistical maniac hell bent on returning her old power to her by any means necessary, even if it means permanently scarring her young but otherwise immortal body. That includes senselessly dispatching a demon that had a claim to your soul. Long term plans are not Liliana’s strong suit. Unlike Bolas, Liliana is a very short sighted, short term planner. What makes Liliana different from every other oldwalker is that she simply wants to be left alone to her own devices. While she doesn’t initially crave for the rule of planes or infinite power and wiping out all other rivals, she does want to live forever and be beautiful at that. She just wants to do what she wants as and when she decides to do it. Liliana Vess of origins is what we’d call a sociopath. Liliana Vess of post mending is what we call a psychopath. The key difference? Sociopaths don’t know what they’re doing is wrong. Psychopaths do, they simply don’t care.
Concerned by the bleeding of her tattoos, the Chain Veil, and her fate thus far, she returns to the plane of the Onnake. She resurrects the body of an old wise man who knew of them. The town is none too pleased with a necromancer, and do what any other old time populace would do: they chase her into a pile of wood (a barn) and burn it down. The man she raised begins speaking cryptic riddles about Liliana while preventing the flames from taking her. Just as she’s about to release her body to the sweet abyss, the corpse is revealed to actually be the Raven Man. He uses what appears to be the same potion as the one Liliana used on her brother, and her tattoos all turn the same colour and she is healed. In typical grateful Liliana fashion, she thanks the Raven Man by stabbing him and planeswalking away with the Chain Veil. I mean, stabbing your saviour is a bit of a dick move.
Liliana, enthralled by her experience decides to annihilate some more demons because she doesn’t have a better idea right now. She heads back to Innistrad to kill Griselbrand but can’t find him since he’s stuck in the Helvault. Garruk shows up and tries to splat her, but Innistrad isn’t short of local meatshields, so she sends a few dozen zombies to keep the guy occupied and escapes. At this stage Garruk is simply a nuisance in comparison to her other problems. Like a big, meaty bad penny with an axe the size of a tree. She heads to Thraben for answers while its under siege by the duo Gisa and Geralf. Mikaeus the Lunarch has already been killed in the battle, and so with her usual respect for the fallen, Liliana raises him from the dead to get her answers. She learns of the Helvault.
Flavourfully black cannot do anything to artifacts unless your name is Geth. It can however demand sacrifices. Liliana casts a spell that forces Thalia, the acting commander of the defence of Thraben, to either sacrifice her soldiers, or crack open a cold one the Helvault. Being the white-white character she is, Thalia smashes open the vault and all the demons (and Avacyn) are freed. Oh and Nahiri. Yeah, you can blame memerakul on Lilana kind of. Liliana tracks down big old G, slaughtering everything in her path (including angels, Liliana really hates angels). Using the Chain Veil, Griselbrand is no more. Easy? Nope.
The Chain Veil starts whispering to her, and this is when our all-powerful necromancer begins to remind me of the woes that beset John Nash. Now John Nash was a peculiar bloke in the beginning, but he was also a mathematical prodigy. This led him to massive success in his field, but the guy strived for more. Eventually people began approaching him for some pretty wild and exotic uses of his services, and wanting more to his life than occasionally teaching and working on cryptography, he agreed. This went on for many years, until eventually he was committed. It turned out that all these years, he had been working for people in his mind, doing jobs that didn’t exist, even imagining up his own roommate who he talked to and about to others frequently. He was utterly convinced that these people were real for years. Imagine having a best friend for a decade and then being told he didn’t exist. After stints in an out of psychiatric help, he maintained his sharp intelligence, but was besieged on a daily basis by his own brain, trying to convince him these people were real and these tasks he wanted to work on were a fabrication. Now, John Nash wasn’t aware of this until somebody else told him and convinced him. He had work colleagues, doctors, and a wife. Liliana has nothing, nobody. She’s hearing voices from the Chain Veil, she keeps seeing this Raven Man, so she’s convinced that the spirits in the Veil are real, and the Raven Man is some kind of planeswalking capable asshole of some kind. Like John Nash, Liliana is powerful, driven, and convinced of herself.
She heads back to Shandalar to find her own answers. She’s then confronted by an angel guarding the entrance and basically melts the thing, all the while it mumbles than Liliana has become a vessel of the Onnake spirits wanting to release themselves. She then has a vision of the Onnake’s extinction event, again seeing the Raven Man as an architect of their destruction. She indicates to the spirits talking to her that she’d quite like to learn such a spell. Her cockiness only grows from this point. She reaches the alter where she found the veil, but her own body refuses to put it back. She raises an Onnake skeleton to obey her command to return the artifact, but it also refuses to comply. Upon de-animating the skeleton, it throws the veil back onto her. By now Liliana should probably recognise when her body is being hijacked. An Onnake spirit materialises in front of her and tells her she’s the vessel of the veil of deceit. She tries to kill the spirit using the Chain Veil, and at long last realises that the thing is slowly damaging her body. Mentally defeated, she planeswalks away. For once, Liliana accepts her fate. Briefly.
She heads back to Jace to manipulate her Victim once more, trying to persuade him to help her kill her two final demons. Back to that old chestnut. He’s angry with the way she dealt with Garruk at this stage however, as he and Nahiri have separately tried to help the cursed beast master. She invites Jace to dinner, but it’s interrupted by Gideon begging for help on Zendikar. Jace immediately accepts, and then Liliana moans how he’ll spare time for his friends but not his wife – in essence. She’s furiously jealous that somebody else can manipulate him to their every whim. Jace informs her bluntly, that Gideon asked nicely, whereas Liliana tried to seduce him. Liliana’s façade begins to crumble from here on, and when a chronically narcissistic person loses the power of their fake front, things begin to unravel. They begin to see a need to reaffirm their role to themselves and others. As a necromancer and narcissist, Liliana is beginning to develop a god complex, and the combined presence of the Chain Veil and the coming Emrakul are only too keen to feed it.
Back on Innistrad Liliana is sulking in her mansion. Jace tries to escape two werewolves after arriving on the plane, and Liliana uses some zombies to drive them off. Jace informs her that he’s searching for Sorin, and being a human of pure survival, Liliana warns Jace that that may not be such a good idea. Jace goes to the manor, goes a bit insane, and then returns to blame Liliana for everything that happened. He tries to break her brain a bit, but the Raven Man that is quite obviously inside her head protects her and tells her to kill Jace. As it happens, the Raven Man is quite afraid of Jace, because of course he’s a mind mage, and might find him lurking inside Liliana’s head should he delve too deeply. Liliana then tries to get some generic geistmage to exorcize the Onnake spirits from the Chain Veil with a witchbane orb, but unsurprisingly it does sweet F.A. Honestly at this point she’s desperate, and I think even she didn’t believe it would work, but she’s willing to try anything to escape attachments to anything. Vess just doesn’t like to be tied down, unless it’s with Jace’s cloak. Giggity.
Emrakul arrives, and the Gatewatch and Thraben are under attack by masses of Eldrazi horrors. Convincing herself that she doesn’t need Jace, Liliana tells herself that she needs the Gatewatch to need her, so that she can use them to kill her final two demons. Realistically both of these are true. She’s desperate, but also an Oppressor. A team of four young neo-walkers are probably just as easily impressed upon as she was when she was younger. Equally four mages with their own specialties are a handy tool for killing demons and not getting your hands too dirty. That is how an Oppressor sees these people – tools. Liliana raises a colossal army of zombies to drive back the horrors and Emrakul, she even thinks so highly of herself that she can take on the titan, calling herself Innistrad’s “Last Hope”. As it turns out, she quickly learns that the Chain Veil isn’t quite that powerful, and Emrakul begins to overpower her. The Chain Veil as well as the Raven Man pretty much begs her to escape with her life, thinking that they can’t possibly win against this thing. Multiple personality disorder aside, Liliana chooses her own fate. Miraculously Emrakul uses Tamiyo to seal herself into Innistrad’s moon and the whole group survives. Jace asks Tamiyo to join the Gatewatch (she thankfully declines) and instead, as second choice, they ask Liliana to join. That worked out well didn’t it Vess? She agrees to their childish terms, knowing full well she has no intention of following their code unless it happens to coincide with some demons.
Liliana is short on patience however, and has a subtle distaste for wasting time on things that don’t concern her. The Kaladesh story comes to fruition, and Liliana notes a possibly entry into the good books of the highly impressionable and entirely chaotic Chandra Nalaar. The arrival of Dovin Baan triggers Chandra’s fury at the Consulate on her home plane, and Liliana plays on it. She takes Chandra under her wing, concealing the usual Oppressor tendencies, and instead takes on a role of Rescuer. She encourages Chandra to share her story, and then tells Chandra she should take revenge on Baral, Emperor Palpatine style.
They come across Tezzeret and Liliana pretty much flips her lid. She tells Chandra that Tezz is dangerous (and we know he’ll do just about anything to survive, same as Liliana), and they need to retreat. The rest of the Gatewatch arrive and scald Liliana for flying off with Chandra so fleetingly. Not wanting to risk her importance in the group, she heads back to her favourite tool and vouch man Jace, convincing him and Gideon to come to Kaladesh. Basically Jace will stick up for her when she does Liliana things. Who needs to convince a team themselves when they can have the defacto leader do it for them?
They join forces with the rebel scumrenegades and take on the consulate, blowing up some ships, confronting Tezzeret in the arena, only to have him escape and rob all the inventions from the fair. Liliana dispatches some troops rather too permanently for Gideon, he moans, but she snaps back at him as though he were a naïve child. You were like him too Vess, at some stage. She says she needs to strike at Tezzeret directly, because he won’t fight fair. She reveals that she’s a little more than weak in the knees for Jace, and wants to hurt Sucker-T for hurting Jace all those years ago. Liliana has somehow grown empathy. She heads off with Saheeli and finds Rashmi, the creator of the planar bridge, and brings her back to the renegades. The Gatewatch are now aware that Tezzeret has interplaner travel tech.
She convinces Gids to let her take on Tezzeret, as a cunning distraction for the Gatewatch to destroy the Planar Bridge. Suddenly she opts to use undead minions to “scare away” the consulate soldiers instead of killing them, leading us to briefly believe she’s taking the Gatewatch’s non-lethal approach some serious consideration. She makes it to Tezzeret and they then commence the most underwhelming planeswalker battle in the history of Magic™. Tezzeret initially believes Bolas sent Liliana to check on his progress. He then informs him He then tells Liliana Bolas is hidden on Amonkhet, where her third demon Razaketh is located. Before she can finish him off, the Gideon-Chandra missile hits and blows the whole fucking spire to bits. Tezzeret escapes with the core of the planar bridge. Liliana then suggests they head straight to Amonkhet to take Bolas on without giving him chance to prepare. What she actually means is, come to this god forsaken plane so I can kill my demon and escape while you all get fisted by the most powerful (known) planeswalker in the multiverse.
On Amonkhet more Chain Veil shenanigans ensue. Liliana gets eaten by a giant worm, but reveals to the Gatewatch that she used the Chain Veil to decompose the worm from the inside. What actually happened was the Raven Man assumed control over her body to prevent her death, using the power of the Chain Veil to kill it. They come across the gods, and the city of Naktamun, and she takes note of the mummified servants. She also derides the gods, as the only gods she knew were hubristic planeswalkers. She should know, she was one of them pre-mending.
The Gatewatch continues with the story, while Liliana… gets fed grapes and uses the mummified servants to her advantage. The Raven Man returns, warning her that she had gotten soft. The voice inside her head has noticed her change from egotistical psychopath to egotistical psychopath with a developing conscience. Jace approaches and he vanishes again, hoping to avoid his cover being blown. They follow one of Liliana’s shades and discover Razaketh’s true involvement in the afterlife and the plane itself. The mummies set upon them and they escape.
The gate opens when the Second Sun rests between Bolas’ horned statue, and Razaketh is revealed. This demon is vastly more powerful than the previous two. He can assume direct control over Liliana’s body (it’s become the town bicycle at this point). It’s a brutal reminder that Liliana is never truly free until every person involved in her soul’s enslavement is ended. He toys with her, but the Gatewatch come to her aid. They distract her long enough to raise some undead crocodiles and tear apart and eat the demon. It’s noted viscerally that Liliana actively relishes the act of consuming the demon via the animals she has raised, and brings us back to the harsh reality that despite all the pretence, Liliana is still cracked mentally. Bolas appears, whips the Gatewatch’s collective asses, and gives Liliana the option to betray her friends and await his command, or die. Liliana is a being of selfish desires, but most importantly, the raw desire to simply survive. She escapes, with other members of the Gatewatch as witnesses to her betrayal. A harsh reminder that she is not allowed attachments to potential Rescuers, and any attempts to do so will be met by harsh consequences. It’s also a blunt reminder that she is still at the mercy of Bolas and her remaining demon, Belzenlok.
She planeswalks to Dominaria to kill her final demon. As a writer, I am fully aware that the death of Belzenlok may not yield the results she hopes; in fact things may only grow more complicated for our psychopathic Oppressor. She is so singularly focused on one goal; she cannot see the forest for the trees. The only solution to the actors of the Drama Triangle is to deprive them of their payoff. Liliana’s superiority is crumbling, her authority is waning in the face of multiple actors within the group, and the blame has shifted significantly since their encounter with Bolas. Liliana’s role as an Oppressor is coming to an end. Three solutions remains – she leaves the triangle as a better person, she becomes a Victim, or, most likely, she ceases living.