She skittered around the walls, eyes darting side to side to ensure nobody heard each footstep on the damn and sludgy floor. She had grown a monumental sense of paranoia in her solitude, and the massive bellowing caves of the Vault echoed her every moment, sound and to her, each thought. The Vault had been filled with silence for months on end, she had simply wasted away her days scheming and raving before eventually falling silent after her own musings startled her. There were corpses everywhere of course. The entire Mephidross was littered with the shredded remains of her entire brood, her servants and slaves had been killed and pulverised or taken for her sly sister’s cause. Her long six legs penetrated each corpse she trod in, responding to her carelessness with a damp squelch because of the significant decomposition. In the beginning she would find herself prying fresh meat off of her jagged extremities. Now everything was worthless liquid. She needed flesh and metal, binded together in an unholy matrimony with the glistening oil that lathered much of her domain. Elesh had seen to it that she was left barren and forgotten by Phyrexia itself. She had not however, counted on her sister’s cunning desire to survive.
Despite Sheoldred’s significant size she had managed to hide during the genocide. She had spent enough time in her chosen land that she had uncovered a great many hidden rooms left by the necromancers that once inhabited her new self-made prison. Beneath what she assumed was once a throne room was an enormous vault of precious metals and stones. When Elesh’s grand force has washed over the Vault like a cleansing tide of vindictive fury, Sheoldred focused only on preserving herself for revenge. She squeezed her enormous arachnid form beneath the throne door and hauled it closed with her strength. Elesh had been efficient enough to leave not a single survivor so much as gurgling, so when the legion came up short with a black Praetor, there were none left to interrogate. Since then she had grown more and more insane with both fear and revenge. A Phyrexian was never built to live a solitary life, it was never meant to exist without fulfilling a specific purpose. Her hands wanted to create, but she had nothing left to create with.
With her core desires left to rot in the back of her brain, she turned to schemes and wild and painful experiments. She had once tried to remove a part of her body and bring it to life with what bodily matter was still solid, stitching it together with metals in close proximity. Failure after failure drove her to the brink, and she now operated on base instincts alone.
She tapped on the walls with one of her six pointed legs, testing the noise and flinching as the echo reverberated back to her ears. She shifted to another spot, tapping away, and then continued to do this a dozen more times.
“I hear you.” She whispered.
The voice had been distant, but it was there. It whispered to her in a language she could not understand. She could tell by the tone it was teasing, some days it was offering a bargain, and others she could make no sense of its intentions at all. She felt compelled to listen however. Something about it made her feel like they were one and the same. It had been trapped like her, and now it was reaching out to her desires.
At first she thought it a trick, made by a combination of the other Praetors to keep her confined to her miserable existence. Its voice was reassuring on some occasions however, and it leaked the feeling of raw, unimaginable power through to her brain and body. She was both fearful of who the voice originated from, but also in awe of what it contained. She was jealous of it. It represented what she needed to be.
For the last few days it had pierced its way into her. She had ventured out of the Vault to observe the chaos she could sense, and looked up in silent admiration. Every day she would steal a minute to gaze upon the coming storm that undulated in the sky, and then return to her dark and slimy prison to merely listen to its presence. This had gone on for long enough that she grew impatient, and felt like hurrying things along. How she wished it would just get to the point.
She hauled her body to the top of the Vault in order to be closer to the looming clouds overhead. Her feet stabbed their way through the metal mountains inside, up to the great hole that indescribable liquid constantly poured from and made her way outside into the dark. The air was warm, full of pressure and felt like it was gently trying to crush her body. Above her the sky rippled, dying to break open. She climbed to the highest point and bared her full form to the threat that loomed above, ready to accept any boon of fate that was thrust upon her. She desired something, anything to grant her power to wreak destruction upon the Machine Orthodoxy and seek revenge. She would destroy the taint of white mana and Phyrexia would be reborn in the image of its true former self.
“Show me your power and your fury.” She yelled to the sky. “Give me the tools to obliterate the unworthy among us and redirect Phyrexia on its true course.”
The sky swelled with curious movements. It was listening, drawing closer to her.
“It will be done in your name.”
The sky fell silent, the sharp whine in the air grew, and the rippling stopped.
Sheoldred’s mind was set alight, her body shattered into a million pieces, and blinded by light and dark all at once until she could no longer feel herself. Was it pain? She couldn’t tell. She could not feel. There was nothing beneath or below her, nothing inside her. She simply was not there, and then she was.
She was stood on a plane she did not recognise that was barren and utterly destroyed. The ground was lifeless dust, the colour was sapped away, and Sheoldred was not breathing air. In fact, she wasn’t breathing at all, yet she did not feel the need to.
“What do you know about my name?” a voice exploded around her.
A giant form the size of a mountain towered over her, an image of the great terror that lurked in the sky. It was like an obliterator, only without the bond of flesh and metal. It was simply an avatar of whatever this being wanted her to see, and it spoke with the voice of an angry goddess, like the spiteful soul of the multiverse.
“Tell me your name and I will serve it.” Sheoldred bowed on two front legs.
“Do you know where this is, little being?” The goddess boomed.
Sheoldred stood to attention and looked around. It was fundamentally impossible to tell. There was nothing left here, no mana, no life. Not even a slight hope of history. This plane had been wiped clean. She simply looked back at her deity, unsure how to respond.
“It was the place of your species’ creation. Phyrexia of old… Rich in black mana.” The giant kneeled down, placing an appendage on the ground like a bare palm.
“It was left in ruins by meddling creatures that walk my Eternities. It was easy to kill, easy to drain of its useful parts –its mana.” The ground slowly crumbled under the weight of its arm.
Sheoldred could feel the power overflowing from the mere image portrayed in front of her. She had never sensed such rich, raw energy before. She could sense that the avatar in front of her was a mere piece of a whole. This being that had killed an entire plane had a presence ten times the size of the one it was allowing her to see. This was a power that Phyrexia needed.
“What do you seek that your servant can’t provide.” Sheoldred asked.
The giant looked down at the ant at its feet and laughed.
“You are not a servant. You creatures of the planes are a mere game. I have been worshipped as a god for millennia. I take and I destroy and yet still there is a race of insignificant parasites ready to live at my will. I have been trapped for a thousand years, and now I seek to sow the seeds of the end among the planes. Your vile and yet resourceful kind will be those seeds.”
The image faltered and shifted before the black Praetor’s eyes. What was once a colossus now became a being of pure and ancient black mana. It unravelled into a hulking black mass of flesh, surrounded by tentacles as thick as the greatest trees in Vorinclex’s forest realm. She was taller than Elesh’s citadel, a hundred times stronger than the green Praetor himself, and she was vengeful.
“Look upon Phyrexia’s new Mother of Machines as you so fondly call it. Your kind will serve my purpose, and you will be at its head. I will remove the false heads, and transport you to your destined existence among the eternities.”
Sheoldred bowed in subservience. This was a more terrible answer to her prayers than she could have imagined.
“What do I call you my Mother?”
“To my pawns I was once Marit Lage, the terror that swept across the Blind Eternities.”
And with that the whole plane that was once Phyrexia of old disappeared beneath Sheoldred’s feet. The darkness flashed before her vision and the familiar atmosphere of New Phyrexia filled her nostrils and tugged at her other senses. She was relieved to be back in her own mind. Less relieved to find she was not back on top of the Vault. In fact she was not in the Mephidross at all. She stood there paralysed as she looked around a bright porcelain white room, screeching and thrashing coming from the room beyond the metal trimmed double doors that stood in front of her. Her new master had placed her right at the top of her rival’s citadel, and by the sounds of the wailing in the following room, Elesh Norn was distracted enough to offer Sheoldred the element of surprise. She was larger than the fragile little white Praetor, but Elesh would almost certainly mortally wound her in the process. She needed to play her, and quickly before her presence was discovered.
“Sister… I, had just been speaking of you.” A familiar raspy voice rang out behind her.
Sheoldred turned to lock eyes with her brother but he had already slipped around her peripheral vision. She darted back and swiftly scanned the walls and ceilings before spotting Urabrask skulking around the domed ceiling.
“Sneaky little wretch. You survived our sister’s advances as well I see. Came begging for your life?” She prepared her claws for an engagement, strafing to the motion of Urabrask’s movement.
“I have brought her the vessel which will… was supposed to spread the oil to other planes. She welcomed me back into the fold, though I fear it is a jar that has already been broken and robbed.” Urabrask stopped his stalking, and instead dropped to the floor to face his sister head on, claw retracted.
The screaming in the following room heightened to the point that both of them could hear Elesh’s vicious shouts.
“EEEEEEMMPTTYYY URABRASK! IT IS EMPTY! ATRAXAAAA!” They both heard a sudden thud – the sound of a raised Vulshok corpse being battered against a wall.
What they did not hear, however, was the approach of Elesh’s angel of death. There were no beating wings buffeting the sides of the tower, no deep crashes of the angel landing. Regardless of Elesh’s alert, Atraxa had not heeded the call.
“This is unusual sister.” Urabrask started. “I saw a great well in the sky in your domain. We should be in the clutches of the angel as I speak and yet she does not come to her master. What have you done?”
Sheoldred could only stand there and consider for a moment. For a moment Urabrask stared at her face, mild shock striking across his brain as looked on and saw his ambitious sister show confusion for the first time in their lives.
“I have brought our Mother of Machines, and she is worthy.” She scoured at Urabrask as the words rippled across her mechanical tongue. “If you wish to live to see my new patron of unimaginable devastation, go in there and distract her. I will flay her myself and drop the pieces upon her endless legion.”
If not at the mercy of one, I am beholden to another he thought. He nodded deeply to Sheoldred. This was the chance he had asked for, and if this was the only way he was able to survive, he would gladly throw Elesh to the hate of the black Praetor. Or this dark force of hers if it even existed. She had managed to get this close to Elesh through some magical means.
Sheoldred gently walked to the side of the door as Urabrask slowly crept through, leaving both doors swung open. Elesh was pacing, pieces of Vulshok scattered across the hall, numerous cracks in the porcelain table and walls where she had battered the body in her fit of rage. She stopped and swung around, hands bawled into tight fists that pierced her own flesh and leaked oil on the ground by her feet.
“Where is my angel Urabrask?” Elesh seethed. “This corpse is lacking the critical piece that enables it to travel among the planes. This was a trick. You took it from it. You took it from me and used it as a means to enter these halls.”
Urabrask began to circle Elesh tentatively, averting her eyes from the door where Sheoldred hid. The sky beyond the balcony rumbled a deep, heavy groan and the light of the suns waned.
“You think to assassinate me in my own citadel. You are a fool to think so highly of yourself. You have always been the weakest of us-” Elesh’s voice caught.
Urabrask had watched Sheoldred slip across the floor, silently swaying her weight across her six legs as she strode up to Elesh and raised her body to her full height. She stood with renewed clarity in her eyes as one of her legs had punctured the Grand Cenobite’s chest. As Elesh tried to process what had happened, Sheoldred turned her Sister and brought her eyes to hers.
“Mother would be disappointed.” She uttered, and threw Elesh around like a ragdoll.
In her unending rage she tore off limb after limb, smashed the false queen’s mask against the floor, shattering its painstakingly perfect form. Sheoldred remained utterly silent, allowing the fury in her eyes to do the talking as she battered Elesh again and again.
Urabrask could only look on in dread.
Sheoldred stopped, and began crawling her way across to the balcony of the great citadel. She looked on at the great legion below her, great swathes cut through its lines, a great hulking body of Marit Lage looming above in the sky. She held Elesh out on her leg, teetering over the sheer drop to look on at the devastation and destruction that had rained on all she had built.
Elesh looked up at the Mother Sheoldred spoke of. She was like no creature she had ever seen, truly a god in size and power, and more benevolent than Phyrexia itself. She watched as a great tentacle unravelled to reveal a crushed body and discarded it to the air like an insignificant bug. She watched as the combined creation of the Praetors fell through the sky, wings shattered and bent, head crumpled and arms flailing as Atraxa fell to the ground.
Sheoldred leaned her head forward to bring it to the broken remains of Elesh Norn’s head and torso.
“Join your creation and be remade to serve our Mother.” She whispered, glee cracking through her words.
Sheoldred slipped her sister’s body off and watched the broken crescent mask fell to the earth.
Urabrask strode up to her side apprehensively, eyes never faltering from the beast the filled the sky.
It flicked Atraxa off like a speck of dust. Imagine what it will do to us dear sister when its patience inevitably wanes.