Project #2 – After our prologue introducing a familiar name to the multiverse, we hit the first section of Act I that introduces our protagonist, Tarklie. Here I’ve tried to fit in as much awesome as possible, showing off our badass female lead. This story will be covered in four+ Acts, so expect this one to evolve over the coming weeks. This chunk is a little longer than the last.
Read the prologue here: https://exceptionallyaverageman.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/prologue-dark-depths/
The situation was dire, but regardless of the cost, Tarklie could not risk retreating towards camp. Their small and almost irrelevant resistance had remained secret and safe in the caverns to the south. If the denizens of New Phyrexia caught wind of even a hint about the whereabouts of a secret survivor camp, the place would be inundated in living metal, bent on their compleation. The few hundred survivors of the insurrection had swarmed to Koth in hopes that he might offer some kind of protection from the unabated spread of glistening oil across the plane. Koth could do nothing, however. After the restoration of the golem Karn, the few powerful people left had either fled off-plane or were captured and consolidated into the Phyrexian host. The planeswalkers had left Koth to his doomed plane once known as Mirrodin, and through some miracle or madness, he had chosen to remain despite the inevitable indoctrination of the entire floating metal world. There was word of other surviving groups, mostly comprised of those immune to infection thanks to Melira, but for the most part the survivors were cut off from one another.
If the Phyrexians scoured the nearby area, they would find the band of remnants, and Koth. They would then all die, Koth included, should his devotion to the plane prove greater than his desire to survive and travel to another plane to find asylum. No, Tarklie and her outfit needed to lead these infected Myr astray as a first priority. If they succeeded and survived, then a double-back would be in order, and they could return with their situation report. They clambered over a small hilly region, with the ever present hum of sickly automatons bearing down on their position. She looked briefly across her shoulder to assess the state of her men. All seven of them remained in relative good health, but their stamina was waning. Deep in her mind, she knew they would not return with the number they set out with, and she made special note of each of the seven faces in the event she or any others made it back alive. Koth and the rest would want to know, they would want to remember. Most of the survivors were soldiers, none of which were related to each other in any way. There were few women in their ranks, but enough had survived, and the remaining few were the hardest and strongest of Mirrodin’s now nearly extinct species. Still, they were all family, and family needed to mourn their losses with respect.
This New Phyrexia was mostly a barren plane now. It had little to no living organic matter, and what was left was infected by the oil. It meant there were few places to hide, and losing a squad of humming Myr all but impossible. They had been fortunate enough to happen upon a hilly bit of terrain, but their situation was almost no better for it. She afforded a look over the brink of their cover, and swiftly ducked back down as quickly as she had shot up. There wasn’t enough time to confirm her estimations, but that were at least a dozen, and they were far closer than she anticipated. There was no time to lose them, no time for a plan, and no hope of outrunning them. Her heart paced double-time and her lungs began pumping. She looked over at her men once more, this time all seven faces looking straight back at her. They knew the look, and they knew the cost that came with it. Before Tarklie could utter a sound, the first soldier, a crusader, leapt to his feet and stampeded down the slope.
The Mirran crusaders were once the pride of the plane’s armies, devout in their duty and almost religious in their form for battle. They adorned the heaviest of armaments, wielded great double-ended blades, and could take more punishing than a sound minded Mirran could imagine. They were the battleships of the army, but their numbers were cut a thousand-fold in the compleation of the plane. This man was likely one of the remaining few, but that fact could not sway him from his duty to annihilate. As he charged on, Tarklie and the others followed in swift pursuit – they shared his duty, and he would not go down alone.
As they spearheaded toward the oncoming swarm, their armour clanged in a righteous unison. None were protected as heavily as the crusader – the weight of his weapon alone would likely encumber any normal soldier or commander to the point of inefficiency. The soldiers wore much thinner lighter plates, spread across the critical points of their body, so as not to hinder their agility in battle. The Mirran almost worshipped metal as a deity, but they were not too blind in their faith of protection to misjudge the importance of dexterity. Tarklie was only slightly more decorated; her position as a commander demanded it. She carried more weight with her, with a grand and impenetrable shield strapped to her right arm, and a dense heavy mace in her left hand that bared a resemblance to a hedron. She was stronger than many of her peers, so she kept pace with her desperate platoon as they covered these remaining few meters before the clash of iron and living metal. None of them could hope to keep pace with the crusader. He would be the first to strike a blow, and the first to receive a dozen.
Even in this hopeless situation, it never ceased to amaze her how strong the crusaders were. He had ram-rolled into the clump of Myr and essentially decimated one in the process. It was a split second before he burst out the other end of the swarm, closer to twenty than the dozen Tarklie had assumed, turned on his heel and smashed through another in a swift cleave. Tarklie and the others beat into the group shortly after and the chaos of the Mirran battle dance ensued. The soldiers were skilled, but the outer shell of the Myr was strong. Swing after swing would bounce or glance off their metal hides, leaving minor chinks on the surface. Tarklie swung into the weaker parts, avoiding the obtuse heads and chest, crushing the smaller limbs in order to maim and hinder their offensive capabilities. A muffled and almost liquid scream rang out behind her; three Myr had clasped onto one of her men, torn away at his plates, and plunged their spiny bladed arms into the man’s chest in a cold, robotic frenzy before swiftly diverting their attention to the next target.
In a fit of desperation two more soldiers leapt to his aid, entirely in vain, overcome by anger at their hopeless situation. They swung wildly at the creatures that had just dismembered the fallen soldier’s body, landing a few fortunate hits to critical points. Numerous other soldiers had fallen, their torn bodies lay entirely lost under the pile of buzzing frenzied automatons. Tarklie kept her composure despite the dire situation, crushing enemies as she viciously pummelled away their advances with her shield-wall. Every few moments she would afford herself a sight to check on the crusader’s situation. He had felled nearly half of the attackers, but had taken numerous direct hits to his now savaged plating. His face and hands were bloody, and masses of Phyrexian oil had lathered itself across his body as he cut away at the enemy. That was the critical strength of the Phyrexian invasion: regardless of whether he survived this onslaught, the oil would infect him. Still, for now he was holding the battle in balance for them. If the crusader fell, they would be all dead in a matter of moments.
Just a few Myr remained, though their party was now all but gone. Every soldier was now dead or dying, clutching titanic tears in their bodies or grasping areas where limbs once existed. Tarklie’s resolve and critical protection her shield had afforded her had kept her alive until this point, and the crusader’s near religious zealotry had driven his strength and supressed his pain. Two smaller creatures barrelled into Tarklie, knocking her to the ground in a clatter of metal. She had lost her grip on her weapon, but her shield had offered some minor defence against the first rain of blows. As if psychically aware of his commander’s situation, the crusader stopped in his motions, allowing an errant attack to strike through his waist. In a blind fit of rage he eased his impaled body off of the arm of the Myr and clambered over to Tarklie, receiving two more slashes to his back and legs. He dropped his blade and seized one of the Myr that was bearing down on Tarklie, raising it above his head as his own blood poured down his legs. Tarklie threw off the other that had clambered on top of her shield, and leapt to her feet. The crusader slammed the Myr down and Tarklie thrust the edge of her shield down onto the neck, crushing straight through the metal linkages.
Just as she turned she was knocked down once more by the remaining two bug-like mechanoids, this time being thrown several feet in the air and across the fallen remnants of man and machine. The first leapt at her again, in a panic she seized a blood-stained Myr arm and carelessly chopped away at the air in front of her, sending the airborne attacker on an uncontrollable trajectory in several pieces. She ran and grabbed the crusader’s hefty blade, barely able to raise it above her shoulders from the sheer weight. It was perfectly balanced, and was slathered in the toxic oil from the fallen creatures the crusader had annihilated. In his final act of servitude the crusader restrained the Myr in his arms, offering Tarklie an open target. She stumbled across, lifted the colossal blade above her head, and thrust it down. She did it with such force, and the weight of the weapon was so great, it cut through the Myr’s strongest parts like paper.
The crusader eased the machine off of him and hung his body upright like a shambling corpse. He raised his arm in request of his weapon – his body was in agony from deep wounds and the infectious oil was seeping into his body. Tarklie placed it in his hands, and watched in honour and appreciation, kneeling down in front of the man as he completed his final duty. He pulled away his broken armour, and pulled the blade into his chest where his heart beated in anguish. In a brief moment she saw a little hope in his face, and then he slumped over to one side, leaving her as the only remaining survivor of the onslaught.
The cost of this small skirmish to the remaining Mirran’s was astronomically high, and Tarklie knew the enemy had lost but a handful of worthless and replaceable peons. They had been forced into a fight that would have left them even more painfully outnumbered than before, and now she had to return to the remnants and break the news. It would hurt them deeply, but none would feel the loss as deeply as Koth. He had tirelessly fought against the tide for so long, and for such little gain. There was never any hope of saving Mirrodin, every inhabitant and visiting planeswalker had known that. Yet Koth stayed despite the planeswalker golem’s refusal to remain and fight. If Karn could not defend the plane, then Koth was but a leaf fighting the storm. Mirrodin could not be saved. Mirrodin had been long lost; it would forever be New Phyrexia. Why Koth had bothered to remain was beyond her comprehension. Perhaps the latest news of her now fallen party would drive him away.
She wandered over, stepping between the human and Myr limbs that were scattered about the place, to pick up her lost weapon. She was far from safe despite this tiny victory, if it could even be considered as such. The caverns were a fair distance away, there was every chance she’d be set upon by another roving group of Myr, or even a patrol from one of the Praetor’s roaming armies. The Phyrexian invasion has been quick and leaked across the land like a virus, but the plane was too large for them to have a presence everywhere so quickly. If luck would have it she could clamber back to camp with her life, now extended by just a few extra days. They could not hide forever, the plane was all but converted, and food was nigh impossible to come by. They would all die here eventually, and Koth would either decide that his fate was to die for his plane, or retreat as the last surviving Mirran. Unless some god-like power came and burned away the Phyrexian infection, they were simply surviving on borrowed time. They hadn’t received reports of the Auriok’s situation in months, and the Leonin led by Kemba were dangerously close to the now deserted Great Furnace of Kuldotha, only protected by a few token enchantments.
She considered loosening off a few pieces of protection – her body was tired and aching, and it wouldn’t save her in the event of another attack. She thought better of it, resigning herself to the idea that she would make it back alive. She wouldn’t allow the sacrifices of her men to be for nothing, and she may need the gear in the coming days. She had lost her sense of urgency, and instead trudged her way towards the caverns at a crawl of a pace. It took a little under an hour to reach them, and her surroundings provided her with little distraction. Large parts of Mirrodin were relatively empty expanses of metal and mineral, a world crafted by the great golem Karn as a giant artifact filled with life and balance. She barely felt the point of turning her head to the horizons on her way, there was little to see, and most of it had been ruined by the warring castes of the Phyrexians. There was talk of a civil war before Karn had been cleansed of the oil, and the invaders had taken to battling one another in a contest for power.
The white Praetor Elesh Norn and her Machine Orthodoxy had come out as the distinctive strong arm of the Phyrexian infection. She had been the central target for the resistance above all of the other Praetors. She was decisive and incredibly dangerous, and had made it more than clear that Koth and his followers were her primary focus in recent months. Those immune to phyresis were of course a concern, but the planeswalker was the most important part of the Phyrexian goal of spreading the host. They could not travel the planes, and relied on the oil travelling on planeswalking hosts. Karn had inadvertently caused the infestation, and was busy preventing the same thing that happened on Mirrodin from becoming the fate of other planes. Koth, who remained on-plane for reasons unknown, was their last hope of spreading their version of perfection.
She reached the rocky metallic outcrop and stopped a few meters away from a huge crack that formed the unlikely entrance. In the distance you could make out the desolate remains of the Kuldotha. Taking a moment to steady herself, she peered around and scoured the land around her. After a full three-sixty examination of the horizon, she cautiously wandered towards the opening. From afar one wouldn’t imagine it was large enough to squeeze your average body through, but looked upon more closely one would realise that the opening was at a severe angle – approach from the side and you might find you could march three soldiers shoulder to shoulder down the throat of the cavern. Tarklie peered in to inspect the condition of the opening, checking for signs of glistening oil in the hopes that nothing had gone awry in her absence. She hoped she might never have the misfortune of finding a trace of it on the walls. Everything looked clear, but she did not immediately enter – there were people on watch at all times, ready to leap to the defence of the refugees inside in the event of a wandering compleated patrol.
“Does the Geomancer remain?” Tarklie shouted, as if addressing the dark air.
“We know not why, but he does.” A brash older voice murmured back.
With the words spoken, two figures emerged from the dark corners of the entrance, expecting to greet a small force.
“I thought seven left with you?” the other younger guard quizzed, an expression of disdain on his face.
“Gone…” Tarklie uttered “A patrol of Myr automatons tracked us down on our return, likely from the orthodoxy. Both companies lie in ruins. Twenty of the machinations litter the ground.” It was a small, thankless victory.
The older guard suddenly tensed.
Tarklie shook her head.
“The crusader was the only one, but he was all but done for. He kept to his charge. He died a Mirran’s death.”
He nodded in sorry appreciation, while the younger of the two looked to take the news with a greater sense of fear in his face. Tarklie could hardly blame the young man. He had barely a few years in military service and was already resigned to the fact that his infected home plane would consume the last remnants of survivors in short order.
“I must speak with Koth, he’ll want to know of the losses, and of the information we’ve received.” She entreated both of them.
The older guard nodded, and the two of them escorted Tarklie down the dark path inside the cavern, leaving the natural light of the mouth behind, exchanging it for the magical dancing glow of ignited torches.
The location of this cave was not entirely random. The seeds of Phyrexian civil war were laid when Elesh and her Machine Orthodoxy largely decimated two of her rival Praetor’s hives. No Phyrexians were aware if either Urabrask or Sheoldred had survived, however the few survivors that coexisted with Urabrask’s minions were well aware of his current health. Urabrask had hidden deep in the Great Furnace, his hive feeling the pulls of normal Mirran emotion and rage, and it was this peculiar behaviour which made him seem weak to his fellow hive leaders. He had allowed the surviving Mirran rebels to take refuge within the Great Furnace and its hidden caves, and allowed the Leonin to remain enduring at its brink, something no other Phyrexian or Mirran would have thought possible. Elesh’s force had decimated the red Phyrexians, and had pushed extremely deep into the core of the old underground goblin city. Urabrask and his remnants had fled far deeper into the plane’s crust into miles of endless tunnels. He had ushered the few survivors of the onslaught for days through the network, and left the remaining resistance in this cave that existed on the far outskirts of his domain. It was close to the surface, something neither he nor his brood valued. Leaving the remaining force to their survival, the leftover red Phyrexians delved deep into the plane to lick their wounds.
It was this act of defiance from a Phyrexian which pushed the remainders, including Koth, to one day hope that perhaps Mirrodin could at least be freed from the Machine Orthodoxy’s grip. Sheoldred, the black Phyrexian hell-bent on mass slavery, was not a Praetor the resistance had hope for. If Elesh has truly destroyed her, their chances would be all the better for it. The remaining Praetors Vorinclex and Jin-Gitaxis were never thought about as hopeful rebels. If Elesh fell by the hand of either, Mirrodin would still be doomed. Vorinclex would devour all, and Gitaxis was only interested in his torturous experiments. Urabrask was different, but now vastly weaker than his counterparts. The remaining Mirrans could only pray that he could rebuild a small insurrection force deep within the core of their metal plane, at the very least to cause disruption to the white Praetor-Queen’s plane-wide rule. Since the attack on the Great Furnace, the survivors had not heard a word from Kemba’s people on the surface. Compleation was almost inevitable.