“Sheoldred, what is this being that now controls the fate of Phyrexia?”
“This is the great god that lives between the planes, and she will lead us to conquer the multiverse as is our way. Through me, Phyrexia will follow her, and she will bring us back to greatness.”
The two Praetors looked on in silence as the being that filled the sky craned around towards the citadel, and moved with her great tentacles outstretched. It floated towards them and slowly enveloped the tower as it came closer. Not a single spec of white was visible as Marit Lage came to rest, aside from the balcony that the red and black Praetors now resided on.
“Behold me Phyrexians, for I am your future.” The words resonated in the heads of every Phyrexian on the plains. “Gather yourselves; there are planes rich in mana ready for my consumption. Serve me through your leader and I will restore Phyrexia to its rightful place in the multiverse. Fail me and I will erase you from history.”
Marit Lage tightened her grip on the citadel and the walls cracked and crumbled before coming to an uneasy rest.
She spoke directly into Sheoldred’s mind.
Put your house in order, we leave for another plane soon, and we will require the entirety of your force. I have lived before time, but my patience is short.
“Get word out to Jin-Gitaxias brother, I wish to see him immediately. You must also meet with Vorinclex. I want the capable population of New Phyrexia here within the day. If he refuses, our Mother will annihilate him and his creations.”
“Vorinclex will never serve, you know this.” Urabrask was not particularly eager to venture into the tangle. The beasts there were twice his size.
Then he will serve through death, Marit echoed.
“I will do as you request. I will send an asp below the surface. What is Jin’s role in all of this?” He asked.
“He can remain here and continue his experiments on this pitiful plane. We will rule the rest of the worlds while he perpetuates his madness. At worst we may return to some useful results.” Sheoldred flicked her hand urging Urabrask to leave immediately.
He began to walk away to the door and begin the descent.
“I am not as foolish as my sister, Urabrask. If you are no longer useful, I will not allow you to live.” She spoke, back still turned to him.
“I have never doubted that. Your instructions are clear.” He slipped through the doors and rushed down to send word to the colossal force that had been ready to kill him just hours before.
Urabrask had never dared to venture into the Tangle since the very beginning of the invasion of the plane. He was the smallest of all the Praetors, and Vorinclex the largest, but it wasn’t his titanic brother that worried him. In the beginning the elves were as dangerous as the beasts that roamed the high tree tops and prowled the earth. Compleation only served to improve their strengths and do away with their weaknesses. If he survived the foliage, then survived the wild creatures, he’d still have to avoid the footsteps of his brother. Vorinclex did not take kindly to visitors that did not share his vision of progress – he tended not to look favourably on visitors at all.
Jin-Gitaxias had sent word back almost immediately to inform Sheoldred that he was on his way to meet their new Mother of Machines, eager to inspect such an ancient beast. Urabrask had been glad to leave the citadel before the mad Praetor’s return. The only part of the plan he felt positive about was leaving the blue Praetor behind and never having to look upon his bizarre test subjects. Jin did not work on creatures for the betterment of the Phyrexian form; instead he and his brood simply enjoyed the process of torture and pain. It was not progress Jin was interested in, because this plane no longer offered any. He had simply found a way to keep himself occupied after the loss of the golem Planeswalker.
Now Urabrask found himself standing on the edge of the Tangle staring in through the sky-high trees. It had taken too long to get here, and Sheoldred had wanted his results quickly. As much as he needed to keep to the shadows to avoid any undue attention, he needed to reach Vorinclex quickly. To Urabrask it felt like a pointless endeavour – he knew his brother all too well. Vorinclex would rather die than serve, to him it was unnatural. Today was the green Praetor’s last day to live, and Urabrask needed to find a way to survive this entire ordeal. If he failed, he would be killed by his sister. If he was too hasty, he would be killed by a wandering Phyrexian, and if he faced his brother head on with the ultimatum, he would be crushed by a large Praetor’s foot.
He had survived Elesh. He wondered if he could really come out of this in one unflattened piece.
He made a tentative first step into the forest, keeping his eyes keen for any sign of movement. He wasn’t used to being surrounded by trees, they made him nervous. He much preferred the hemmed in confines of the tunnels underground. They were dark and you could meet your prey head on. Here he was open to attack from every angle. He considered travelling along the tree tops, but it would slow his progress significantly. The ground was risky, but he could search the undergrowth more quickly at a steady sprint. He was light-footed and built for stealth, so he could dart about at a fair pace without being immediately noticed. The issue was the roaming green Phyrexians had a keen sense of smell and hearing. They were built to hunt and crush their prey.
He built up a canter and aimed as square to the centre of the Tangle as possible. Despite his best efforts the tainted foliage on the ground exaggerated the noise of each step. He noted the changes to the forest since the introduction of the glistening oil – while the trees and plants had not died, they had changed more than a native could have imagined. What were once strong impenetrable trunks of copper and iron had become soft and almost malleable. Foliage decomposed while still on the branch and droplets of sticky liquid pattered on the floor, feeding the strange fungal growths that had made their home on the ground. Urabrask heard no calls from the nature that once inhabited this place. Everything was silent. It made him feel uncomfortably nervous. He had expected to at least hear the occasional call of infested herd beasts or the sounds of compleated forest folk hunting.
He stopped dead.
He hunkered as low to the ground as possible, still maintaining a pose to pounce out of danger’s way should it come to it. He slowly scoured the immediate area, reversing his body in a circle to get a bearing on his surroundings. He peered at every tree trunk, every distant clump of debris, and every movement in the canopy. He saw nothing. There was not a living Phyrexian in sight, or anything living for that matter. So he waited, slowed his breathing and sharpened his immediate senses. His ear canals twitched, and he leapt behind a tree in a blur of movement. He turned to his original location and saw three bladed metal shards embedded in the floor.
Elves. He thought.
He had assumed the plane was cleansed of resistance, particularly in the Tangle. He guessed he must be under attack by a compleated husk that had mistaken him for a native. Another thud behind the body of the tree indicated another roaming projectile, feeling out for his location. Whoever it was knew he was here and was baiting him out. He knew the direction the blades had come from originally, but if it was an elf, they’d likely moved to a better spot, meaning his own location was already compromised. He turned and darted up the tree, launching himself up several meters at a time as his thick claws plunged through the bough.
He finally heard movement around him and tracked it off to his left. He adjusted his angle of ascent to keep the assailant’s approach behind cover. He needed to get an eye on his aggressor and close the gap without catching a flank full of blades. He made a mental note of the trees in the immediate vicinity – he needed to move quickly and unpredictably. He leapt off to one side, slamming onto a tree and then immediately launching himself forward to another, all the while keeping his head forward to scan the brush. Then he saw a small movement further up towards the canopy. He saw a sleek figure dart between branches, copper skinned and with thick black braids. The elf was dashing to higher ground, aware of his approach.
He pulled himself upward, working his way towards the highest level of the Tangle, constantly jumping between trees until he made it to the denser leaves above. If the elf moved in to find him he’d almost certainly hear the approach. He prowled through the canopy being careful to mask his noise with the natural movement of the leaves. At first he thought his stalking was effective, and then he heard a grunt and a leap. Before he knew it he was pushed off his branch and grappling with a relentless small figure. It was strong for an elf.
“Little Praetor!” She screamed. “You are not welcome in my Tangle.”
They plummeted through the upper brush, and dropped through the empty air between the pillars of trees. Urabrask struggled and grappled the small figure that was plunging tiny claws into his flesh, pulled her off of his side, and brought his attacker within his vision.
“Glissa. I am not here for a fight!” He roared.
She kicked him in the gut and launched off towards a nearby branch with grace, two curved daggers in her hands dripping with his infected blood. He spun the air for a few moments before coming to his senses. The floor was fast approaching and he instinctively flung his body off to one side, throwing his claws out to catch on anything that might slow his descent. Instead of grazing a trunk he slammed body first into a protruding branch, knocking the wind out of him and crumpling a number of metal ribs. He clung on for purchase and began to haul himself up. Glissa landed on the part of the branch that originated from the trunk, legs bent and her familiar murderous gaze fixated on him.
“I seek Vorinclex. I must talk with my brother, I was not sent to kill anyone.” Urabrask hauled himself onto his feet, keeping his eyes on Glissa’s twitchy hands.
“Vorinclex speaks to no one, not even me. This Tangle was mine before it was his. I intend to exercise my right to defend it from trespassers.” She began to creep forward, daggers at the ready.
“Elesh is dead. Sheoldred has taken over the remaining forces of the Machine Orthodoxy. She has taken what is left of the remaining Praetors and has allied herself with a being of godlike proportions that seeks to invade other planes. She intends to leave Mirrodin under the protection of Jin-Gitaxias while the full host of Phyrexia migrates to a new plane for an invasion. I speak the truth. A horrifying path lays ahead for us all.” Urabrask paused, he needed a hook. “If he complies, he and his forces will leave the Tangle with me and join the invasion. If Vorinclex refuses, this Marit Lage being will destroy him, take his army and move it off-plane with the rest of us. The Tangle would be yours to rule in either case.”
Glissa stopped her approach, and he waited for her response.
“I must speak with him first for either of these things to happen.” He continued.
Glissa looked bemused.
“It is a curious thing, red mana. What it has done to the Phyrexians is bizarre. Even now when I hear you speak I do not hear the raw savagery that befits a Phyrexian Praetor. Your origins have made you weak, a false representation of your people. And yet… you are the most reasonable of your kind, amicable almost.” She knelt down and sat along the branch, one leg handing down and swinging mid-air.
“You, Urabrask, are born of pure survival. You epitomise it. You may not be strong, but by the Father of Machines you are hard to kill.”
Urabrask relaxed his posture. He needed to close this altercation fast.
“If you look to the horizon you may find a far greater being has become the self-made Mother of Machines. She is born of pure malice and commands power greater than the five suns. She will see us born into glory, but she will also be our end. Jin and Sheoldred will never see that. I merely ask your help so that the epitome of survival may survive yet one more day.”
I have found myself begging for the third time in nearly as many hours. I have fallen as far as they say. He thought.