Project #2 – Act 3: Mother of Machines Pt4

Glissa simply stared back at him in mistrustful consideration. He knew she had been placed second in almost every regard and yearned for familiarity, but also a more proactive role. The fact she was now dwelling in the Tangle indicated to Urabrask she was already growing a rebellious stance. If the hierarchy controlling this plane was largely removed, Glissa would initiate a hostile takeover of what she deemed hers. The only thing standing in her way was the wandering Phyrexian Praetor Vorinclex.

“I do not trust you Praetor. I will take you to your brother, simply because I want him gone. If you ensure that, we have a bargain. Once what’s done is done, however, I do not want to see you in my forest again. If I do, you will become food for the trees.” Glissa tilted her head waiting for agreement.

“Agreed.” Urabrask grunted.

With that Glissa walked off the branch into a freefall, Urabrask leant over the edge and spotted her grinding her claws down the trunk of a tree to slow her descent as she neared the forest floor.

She intends to lead me on foot? On the ground?  He wondered if Glissa had become complacent over the years, or was wilier than he anticipated and simply following a contingency plan. Elves preferred the heights and cover of the trees, as did he. The floor of the Tangle was host to a number of buried lurking beasts.

He leapt off the branch, darting between levels, opting for a slower and more controlled descent. After a minute or two he landed on the soft and squishy forest floor next to Glissa, her hands on her hips, claws tapping away at her copper gilded waist.

“This approach is… open to attack.” He murmured.

“I can feel the vibrations of your brother down here, he is not far away.” She pointed out towards the East of the forest.

“If we find ourselves beset on all sides I am sure your benevolent god will come to our aid.” Glissa said with doubt. “I can’t imagine you being much use in a fight without numbers on your side. If he doesn’t crush you, most of what’s alive in this forest will.”

Glissa began to walk away, her arms stretched out allowing her to rub the trunks of the trees as she passed them on her path.

Urabrask had been divulged the information about her past by Jin years before. She was once a child of the forest, a latent Planeswalker robbed of her spark, and defeated the original curator of Mirrodin. She had met Karn himself. Once compleated by the glistening oil and exiled by her people, she had become Vorinclex’s champion, and took a direct role in the compleation of the plane. Now she wished to usurp her creator and rule the Tangle, perhaps to exact revenge upon the ghosts of her people. Her spite had only grown fiercer and encompassed everything but herself, including her own Phyrexian kind.

Much to Urabrask’s distaste, they had walked through the trees for nearly an hour, only having to avoid a small gathering of Vorinclex’s bizarre thralls. A great lumbering lump of spherical flesh with pole like arms and legs had swung across their path, seemingly uninterested in their presence. The deeper Glissa took him, the louder the hum of Phyrexian existence grew. He could hear the clattering of trees in the distance from great herds of infected beasts knocking them down. Glissa even warned him of a small party of Phyrexian elves that were patrolling the canopy ahead. She had taken a small detour around their patrol lines, indicated by strange markings across the tree trunks that outlined their self-imposed borders.

In the distance there were great thumps that gently vibrated the ground. It was slow but methodical, almost careful in its nature. Ahead Urabrask could see a break in the trees, revealing an enormous clearing surrounding a massive lacuna that led to the plane’s lower spheres.

Glissa stopped and put her hand on Urabrask to do the same.

“Your brother lies in the clearing around the green lacuna. How is he likely to greet you?”

“The same as everything else does.” He shrugged his plated shoulders. “With intent to kill.”

He continued on as Glissa looked down at the floor and sighed.

“If death is what he wants for you I won’t stop him, you realise that right?” She shouted after him.

“I expect nothing less. From anyone.” He turned to Glissa with a sharpness in his eyes. “He may be large, but I am quick.”

Glissa made a sarcastic snort of confirmation and strode past him into the clearing.

Urabrask made a mental note of each part of his body that stung from Glissa’s ambush earlier. His ribcage had sustained some damage, and while many of his wounds had coagulated, he was still in poor condition. He hoped to avoid conflict, but in the event words were not enough, he hoped Sheoldred’s new master lived up to her word.

He built himself up mentally and broke through the last rows of trees into the vast field. The sight that greeted him was something of a rollercoaster. He had spent so long in his caves, dark, hot and cramped spaces, looked on at Sheoldred’s domain of the dead, and witnessed the sprawling citadel of Elesh’s annex; he had not prepared himself for a world of natural marvels. What he saw for the first time overwhelmed his already shot senses. There was a fungal-like and yet beautiful sea of grass that slowly built itself up, roaming compleated beasts in herds of imposing size, and a titanic quadruped being roaming around the largest lacuna Urabrask had ever seen. Strange Phyrexian foliage burst out of the hole like a plague as it stretched across Vorinclex’s glade, overwhelming the harsh metal origins of the world and covering it in alien yet soft and vulnerable life.

Vorinclex was circling the lacuna in a slow, lumbering fashion, swaying his head side-to-side as he inspected the progression of his habitat. He considered each and every infected beast he passed, gauging the effectiveness of the creatures since the infection had worked its way through their genes. He took one final step before pausing, shifting his gaze to the approaching Glissa and then slowly altering his course to collide with hers.

He was the largest, most stubborn of the Praetors. A single one of his legs out shadowed the full form of any of the other four Praetors, and his body was large enough to house the uppermost room in the citadel. His body was mostly red raw flesh save for his head, which held more armouring than an entire Mirran garrison. It was like a titanic plate battering ram, capable of flatting the entire Tangle should he build enough momentum. He was solely responsible for not only Glissa’s compleation, but that of the elves that roamed the jungle – their only core reason for existing to hunt inferior prey. Vorinclex cared nothing for schemes or plans, or for the expansion into the further multiverse. He simply strived to root out the weak, and sieve through his creations until all that was left was the strongest and most formidable Phyrexians the army had to offer.

To Vorinclex, Urabrask was weak. He was mere prey.

Urabrask kept his body low, hoping to avoid immediate attention while his brother busied himself with Glissa. He did however want to know what the green Praetor had to say. He needed to meter the potential reaction to his presence before he made himself seen. He creeped along the barer edge of the glade and crammed himself behind a mound of what looked like an especially aggressive and active moss.

“Glissa, why do you call?” Vorinclex’s deep voice rumbled from the depths of his enormous core.

Glissa spoke, head bowed in a way that indicated she hated the prospect of being a servant.

“There is a trespasser in the Tangle, great voice. I have wounded him but he still approaches, he wishes to talk-”

“You let an invader of the Tangle live? Tell me, traitor of elves, why I should not crush your bones.” Vorinclex’s massive head bowed low, his jaws revealing great metal fangs as long as an elf’s arm. A heavy growl reverberated from his belly.

“It is Urabrask. He brings word of the Phyrexian lords.”

Vorinclex’s growling heightened and he reared up revealing his full, colossal body.

“Where are you tiny failure!?” He roared, boulder-sized fists clenched, scanning the surrounding area. Beasts ran, the plantation stilled and all living organisms receded from its creators call.

The moss that was relentlessly and fruitlessly trying to eat its way through Urabrask’s carapace regressed, and the red Praetor’s body shook at the shockwave of his brother’s voice. Every ounce of his instincts told him to remain hidden, but he knew he could not hide from the giant predator’s keen sight and sharp sense of smell. He skulked out from behind his hiding spot, both eyes bolted to Vorinclex’s stature to anticipate his brother’s every move. He crept slowly on the balls of his feet, ready to spring to a safe distance should his brother begin to charge.

He started with the only thing he could hope to quell his brother’s rage.

“Elesh is dead, brother.”

Vorinclex replied with a speedy reply typical of his bull-headed nature.

“She was a false leader, weedy and small. She put herself before the true nature of Phyrexia. And you. You failed the Phyrexian ideal as soon as you learned to hide Urabrask. Here, in my fields of glory you cannot hide!”

Vorinclex faced him head on. As if by call, hundreds of elves appeared, grappling low among the trees to witness their creator destroy the last remnant of the red Phyrexian brood. Urabrask looked about to see if they would enter the fray, but they obeyed some silent order to simply observe. He searched the glade for Glissa but she was nowhere to be seen.

She hopes to see the fall of her creator, but not without the veil of the shadows.

Urabrask felt she was more like him than she realised.

He looked about the sky, hoping to see some kind of sign of his sister’s newfound Mother of Machines. He waited for a moment, a short few seconds that felt like a lifetime when such an imposing force was stood to confront him, ready to smash his body into a pulp to feed the forest floor. He had no option but to stand and deliver his message. He would either die quickly under foot, or pray that some salvation would arrive.

“There is a great being…” he spoke, moving slowly towards the lacuna to cut off his brother’s chances for a straight charge. “Her name is Marit Lage, and she is a mighty force of destruction. She is our new Mother of Machines, and she wishes us to conquer other worlds.”

“I will crush it as I will crush you insect!” Vorinclex began to bound forward, skirting the edge of the great green lacuna.

“She wishes to take us to a new plane, to compleate it and spread Phyrexia among the multiverse.” Urabrask began shouting, rooted to the spot by blind faith and fear. “They sent me to request your inclusion and all your brood to the new war that lies ahead!”

Suddenly his muscles kicked in and he sprang a few meters off to the size, skidding along the slippery glade surface.

“I serve no one. Not the false father Jin made out of Karn, not Elesh, and I will never serve another.” Vorinclex shot past the location Urabrask had leapt from and flicked his weight around far quicker than his opponent thought possible.

“Run all you like little brother, if you do not face me with strength and accept your fate, I will have my legion puncture you with a thousand blades. You are not worthy of the title Praetor.”

Vorinclex reared up and bent his rear legs hard, before leaping into the air in an impossibly tall arc, his descent trajectory bearing down on where Urabrask now stood. He would crush him like a falling meteor.

It is you who are weak. She whispered into the minds of the praetors, the elves, and the plants themselves.

Something in Vorinclex’s face changed as a sudden hint of dread crept over him halfway through his fall. Like a whip crack, the voice of Marit Lage struck Urabrask into action, and he rolled frantically to avoid the impending crash. He had rolled too far and had forgotten his environment in a panic, and half his body slipped down the ledge of the lacuna. He clung on with his enormous claws, his ribs and prior injuries stretching at the strain.

A great tentacle lunged at Vorinclex, snatching him from the sky like a hand plucking an insect from the air. The speed and strength compressed the air from his lungs and he crumpled like a ragdoll. He hung in the air, limbs hanging down as he processed the surprise assault. Meanwhile the full body of Marit Lage sprawled its way across the sky, covering the entire glade in the shadow of her mighty presence. As if by some juvenile instinct, Vorinclex opened his jaws and clamped down on the tentacle that held him aloft. His fangs could not puncture the surface, and the limb that held him didn’t even flinch from the attack.

It was then, Urabrask saw, that his brother realised the true power of the being that he had warned him of. A small part of him hoped that she crushed him on the spot, but a larger part of him hoped his brother would look beyond his stubborn nature and join the renewed cause. Of the latter he had very little faith.

“You are the mightiest of your kind, Vorinclex.” Marit Lage brought him up to a host of eyes that inspected him with greed.

“Gather your creations and be a destroyer of planes, serve me and your brood will reach heights of strength out of your reach.” The myriad of eyes grew wide, awaiting Vorinclex’s response.

“You… You are not Phyrexian.” The tentacle squeezed. “I. Serve. None!” He reared his head to chomp down on the tentacle again, but with a swift and echoing crack, his body snapped and fell limp. A look of fierce anger surprise was frozen on his face.

“Then you will serve in death.” She uttered.

She dropped the corpse of the green Praetor to the ground, and he hit the earth with an enormous thump. His brood of elves who had witnessed the ordeal looked on in stunned confusion, unable to process the loss of their creator.

A dozen tentacles reached down at the body and wrapped it until not a single visible surface could be seen amongst the writhing mass. Dark energy coursed its way through Marit Lage’s appendages and withered the living elements around it. After a few moments the tentacles receded, and Vorinclex’s heavy mass began to stir. His flesh no longer looked red raw, but instead oozed with black fluidity and death. The undead Praetor hauled itself up on its legs in silence, turned to the wall of forest and began to lumber in the direction of the citadel.

Elves looked at one another, then glanced back at the horrifying entity that filled the sky. Like dutiful servants, they each swung along the trees and began to converge on Vorinclex one by one, until the entire host of elves, beasts and monstrous creations were following their silent undead creator through the forest, partly out of servitude to their master, but also in fear of their new Mother of Machines.

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Project #2 – Act 3: Mother of Machines Pt3

“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.

Project #2 – Act 3: Mother of Machines Pt2

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.

Project #2 – Act 3: Mother of Machines Pt1

She looked out towards the vast fields of her crop from the highest balcony on her citadel. She had everything and yet could not fulfil her deepest desire, the purest purpose for which her entire world was built for. She needed to grow, had grown these last few cycles. Her orthodoxy was the strongest force on the plane, and it had expanded to cover nearly the entirety of this metal rock. The Phyrexian nature of compleation was its core reason for being, and now that was all but complete, she felt a sudden surge of frustration that her needs were not being satisfied anymore. New Phyrexia had been born, but she was bigger than that. Her perfect form of the Phyrexian image needed to be shared with all creation, and yet her Praetor rivals were preventing her from seeing that dream through.

She needed to kill them all, bring them within the confines of her porcelain dream, and then take over more worlds like her kind hundreds of years prior. She needed a vessel, and there was one Vulshok that could fill the role.

The citadel was a shining example of Elesh’s persona. It was a preposterously tall and imposing building, built of shining white metal without so much as a scratch adorning a single inch of its walls. The tower was surrounded by a great annex a hundred meters tall, a compleated angel standing watch on each pillar. It served no real purpose other than to instil respect in the shattered minds of every Phyrexian that laid eyes upon her domain. The security of the annex was irrelevant in a world that she ruled, and with no more living remnants on Mirrodin, the machines that made more of her kind in the dozens of floors of the citadel served no purpose. It was all a façade to maintain her rule.

She ran one sharp finger down her crescent head, feeling for the cracked and rotting imperfections of flesh and bone. She felt a small notch along the curved edge just before the point and lopped it off with a sharp flick of her finger. She looked down an inspected the first signs of rust on the slither she had just removed. Flesh felt like a disease, but this entropy of metal was what she feared most. It was a sign of coming weakness, of age. She flicked it away into the air and continued to scour her arms for any speck of irregularity. Her obsessive inspection was interrupted as her crop of soldiers began to part.

Down below, a hundred thousand white faceless legionnaires stood awaiting her orders, willing to wait days if not weeks. They would not breathe if she commanded them not to, but she knew more than any other their thirst for an invasion. The orthodoxy was being denied its rightful duty to invade. If they were not given the opportunity soon, they would make one themselves. They had not only taken the plane, but decimated the domains of nearly every other Praetor. One of which, was making his way through the parting ranks, flanked by his pitifully small brood.

Elesh’s clawed hands clamped onto the railing in front of her and bared red teeth in her skinless mouth. Before her walked the impure embarrassment of Phyrexian progress. Urabrask had been a disappointment in every right, had failed in his duty to cleanse his lands of the Mirran, and faltered from the very beginning. He needed to be cleansed and rebuilt in the true image of Phyrexia. He was fast, but small and weak; his force of poorly reconstructed Leonin that followed him would be stopped at the annex. She would welcome him in and then tear him limb by limb. He would be remade in her image, and he would become beautiful.

Her attention was quickly diverted by a corpse being carried by four of Urabrask’s shambling creations. Her false heart raced in anticipation, and she could not wait.

“Stop.” Elesh muttered, no louder than a murmur.

The crowd of legionnaires far below faced inwards to the approaching party, the front line refusing to budge unless their leader demanded it. A circle of spears dropped around Urabrask and his cohort stopping them in their tracks. Urabrask was visibly flustered.

“The Mirran are no more. The Vulshok, the Leonin, the Elves. They do not walk this plane.” He spoke to the wall of flat porcelain faces before him, aware that the crazed self-imposed leader in the distance would be listening through them. “The coming of Phyrexia is complete.”

“No thanks to you.” One of the faceless minions in front of him spoke, but the hiss behind the voice did not belong to what stood in front of him. The figure spoke once more.

What do you bring to your Mother?” It asked, a red raw fleshy hand pointing towards the lump his escort was carrying.

Urabrask had hoped to make it into the citadel before giving up his prize. He needed some kind of security. If he gave up the body now, her endless ranks could fall in and pulverize his inferior force in a matter of moments. He had done all of this to gain favour, but was immediately regretting his decision. Elesh was as ruthless as she was perfect, she would allow nothing to stand in her way. He did however know that this news of Phyrexia being complete would render her work essentially done here. The Phyrexian force would need a new line of expansion, and it would look to her to provide it. If she could not, they would topple her rule in time. Both Praetors were in difficult circumstances, but he was providing her a critical lifeline. He thought better of antagonising her at this point.

“IT IS OUR VESSEL!” He shouted to the army around him.

Two of his processors lifted the body up, parading Koth’s limp body in the air for all to see.

Elesh’s fingers crushed the metal of the balcony rail in front of her in heated excitement. She lifted her arm effortlessly up to point at the body in the distance. Obeying silent orders, a colossal angel swooped down from behind the point of the citadel’s spire. Its head was created in the image of its mother, its body was as tall as an obliterator, and its wings thrashed the air into reverberations. It swooped down with intense speed towards Urabrask’s small force, and the small crowd of orthodoxy soldiers scattered at her approach. She broke the air hard with her wings as she reached the ground in front of Urabrask, knocking dozens of red and white Phyrexians alike. She stood tall and grand, a testament to the combined power of the Praetor’s potential creative effort.

All save for Urabrask. He had heard word of Atraxa’s creation after the failure of Koth’s assassination attempt near the core, but had chosen to remain in hiding. He was always suspicious of his brethren’s true intentions, and feared for his own life. Now he stood completely inferior to their creation. She was greater than him, and yet she was a mere servant to the mad one that called herself mother. He was truly at her mercy. He slunk across the one side, hoping not to remain in the fallen angel’s path. His party followed suit, the two processors laying the Vulshok’s body on the floor like an offering.

Atraxa stomped towards the body, never offering as much as a glance at a single standing Phyrexian surrounding her. She was as confident and formidable as her master. She picked up the body with one hand and turned to Urabrask.

“To your mother.” Atraxa demanded, her voice echoing like an angel in perpetual agony.

She ushered Urabrask to her back.

He considered for a moment, ever suspicious, until he finally agreed and crawled onto the angel’s shoulders. She kicked off and climbed into the air, leaving Urabrask to cling on for his own safety, and made her way to Elesh waiting on her uppermost balcony. He used the moments to look down on his rival’s domain, and his eyes confirmed the inevitable. The army he had approached from this side of the domain was but a fraction of the force the white Praetor commanded. Surrounding the entire annex was a great ocean of Phyrexians loyal to the Machine Orthodoxy, numbering into the hundreds of thousands. There was no imaginable force that could penetrate the ranks, let alone get past the annex and into the citadel. Elesh Norn had surrounded herself with the indoctrinated masses, and it occurred to him they were a single command away from sweeping the Praetor rivals from the face of New Phyrexia. He was not alive because of his cunning. He was alive because she allowed it.

He turned to face the citadel and saw Elesh awaiting them expectantly, not even the slightest movement from her mouth. If there were emotions, she had utterly supressed them, but she looked to be in no mood for games. If he moved a limb out of line she’d have Atraxa repurpose him forcibly. She wandered back indoors as the angel made her way towards the balcony for landing. She dropped Koth’s body on the floor like a sack of unnecessary limbs and landed hard enough to shake the spire above. Urabrask slowly crept down onto the floor, feeling slightly uneasy about being quite so high above ground. He had spent his entire existence under it, and now he was nearly a mile above it with two creatures that would be more than happy to reintroduce him to the surface with some speed.

Elesh waved a hand and Atraxa disappeared with a silent dive. Urabrask never heard her land.

“Imagine what she could have been with your support.”  She was facing away from Urabrask, allowing him to take in her perfect form. “Now bring the body.”

Urabrask hauled the Vulshok onto his shoulder and walked across to a raised table where Elesh was stood in wait. The floor felt too clean, it tapped and felt somehow more artificial than he was attuned with. The direction this praetor had taken their race was not what he had envisioned. It all seemed so false, so far from their raw instinct. She had set herself so far from the original front of Phyrexia that she had become deluded with grandstanding. She was serving herself, not the needs of Phyrexia.

She is less a Phyrexian than I.

He dumped the Vulshok’s body on the table before Elesh. Her floating hand twitched at the sight of him.

“How did he die? I see no cause.” She inspected the body with her eyeless mask.

Urabrask’s head remained low.

“He was found dead on the battlefield alongside the last of the Leonin.”

“You do not know how the most dangerous inhabitant of this plane and the most important tool in our future died? You are even less worthy of your status than I imagined.” She laid her hands on the table.

Before her lay the body of the only remaining Planeswalker, and the only possible chance of sending the glistening oil to other planes. Here he was, dead, cause unknown, brought to her by an entirely untrustworthy source that once lived alongside these Mirran. Still, he had seen to their compleation in the end.

“I must bring his flesh to our cause. Ensure the shard of energy that once lived in this body remains. Leave me.” Her voice wandered into distant ramblings.

“What of me and my brood?” Urabrask asked – body ready to leap into action despite the appalling odds in his favour.

They will be mine and so shall you. I will take your being and you will be useful. She thought.

“Leave them among the ranks outside. You may remain in the citadel. I will summon you whatever the outcome.” She had her hand on the Vulshok’s chest and turned her head to face the red Praetor, a grisly grin spread across what little flesh was left of her face.

“You are in my domain. Your brothers and sisters have fallen as you have. I will have my perfection, with or without your existence. I will be what he was not.” She turned back to the corpse, sinking her fingers into the metal flesh.

“Yes… Mother…” Urabrask responded before skulking out the doors.

 I am dead regardless.

He needed an out. His gift had granted him far less favour than he anticipated. She was already too far gone to the whims of her own insanity and if this Vulshok granted her what she wanted, she had the potential to send something to other planes. She needed more than just a Planeswalker however. She needed the Father of Machines to build them a way off of this world, or she would still be stuck on this rock.

He crossed the citadel to the farthest edge that faced the Mephidross, what was once his sister Sheoldred’s domain. He peered out to see what had become of the wasteland since Elesh Norn’s orthodoxy had decimated the presence there. None of the Praetors had heard word of her fate, but she alongside Urabrask had been presumed dead. Vorinclex had become obsessed with his vision of the growth that he had secluded himself among his own creations.

In the distance the sky above the Mephidross churned and sank. To Urabrask it looked like it was fighting itself, tearing itself apart as it made its way closer to land. He looked down to see if anyone had noticed the anomaly, but the entire army was still, unwavering. They were so soaked in Norn’s grandeur, nothing concerned them. He peered back up to the sky as it thrashed, desperately trying to explode under its own pressure.

If that is you sister, it must be of catastrophic proportions. If it is not, your efforts will be fruitless.

The rogue Praetor turned his back on the coming storm and willed it to sweep away all that held this porcelain stain, wash away the frivolity and allow the true raw power of Phyrexia to come to bear. To see this giant totem to his sister’s glory fall under a crashing wave of destruction would bring him more satisfaction than the successful compleation of Koth. His head swam with thoughts of his brothers, each following their unique desires for perfection. The Phyrexian ideal had become so fragmented there was no balance. This was the plane’s defence against such advances. The mana bonds of each region was so strong, it divided those who attempted to conquer. Elesh’s sheer will and cunning had gotten her ahead in the race, and there was no discernible way to catch up.

Urabrask yearned for her to fail.

Project #2 – Act 2: The Torch of the Shard Pt8

Tarklie awoke with the familiar clanging of Ting’s only means of communication. He was busy wordlessly arguing with his master in the next room – Maris was none too impressed with what breakfast he had brought her. Tarklie opened her eyes wide in an effort to force her mind to wake up quicker. Last night was the first night she had slept more than a few hours at a time, but her body wasn’t used to it. She had a severe headache, and her body pleaded for more time to recover from the last few months of poor sleep. She had been in a permanent state of alarm for months on end; now that she had stopped she wasn’t sure if she was capable of starting again.

She pulled herself up and threw off the covers. She had slept in her new lightweight armour, a necessary habit developed on her home plane, but this gear was vastly more comfortable. Her hair was splayed and tangled like the overgrown razor fields, blood and debris stuck in its wild weaves. Maris had left a wide toothed comb on a cabinet alongside a wooden cup of water. She certainly has her priorities set. Tarklie thought, and wondered just how long Maris had considered mentioning her guest’s appearance. Tarklie gulped down the water in one go and brisk shoved the comb through her hair, ignoring the severe tugging at her scalp. After just a few minutes it was mildly tamed, and various bits of indescribable matter littered the floor at her feet. She sighed at walked towards the door to see what the fuss was about in the other room.

“I know you’re vertically challenged my little tin toddler, but when I send you to fetch food, I prefer if it hasn’t been dragged half a mile along these streets. Do you have any idea what fluids stain this stone?

“I just cannot stand bruised fruit, it erks me.” Maris exaggerated a shiver down her spine and swung her head across to see Tarklie entering.

Tarklie’s eyes were wide visibly shouting don’t bring me into this!

“Good morning sunshine, I see you found the comb I left you and put it to very little use.” Maris picked up some sort of food Tarklie had never seen in her life. “Hard to believe you can grow anything in this ground, but it’s not half bad. If I’d eat it then I’m sure it’s beyond your expecations.”

Tarklie took it in her hand, squeezed a little and tested its weight. It was round but long, yellow with tinges of green, and it still felt cool to the touch. She brought it to her mouth and smelled, and a smile worked its way across her face. She chomped down and tore a side off.

“I tend to peel it first but I suppose your bowels may need the extra work by now… is fruit partly metal on your world too?” Maris looked on at Tarklie like some sort of foreign savage as she emptied the contents of the sack onto her table.

“No…” Tarklie replied, mushed up food muffling her words. “It’s like this but less… sweet.” She still looked like a giddy child to Maris.

“Perhaps that explains your overall demeanour; I couldn’t imagine a whole world filled with people as regimental as you. I bet they ceremoniously stuck their bitter metal fruit up their- goodness, don’t eat the middle darling or your intestines will forcibly eject themselves onto the floor.” She wagged a hand at Tarklie and took what little was left off of her hands.

“I am the mother of two mentally stunted children…” she sighed and passed Tarklie some more fruit and bread. “Eat your fill; we need to plan our exit strategy. Things have escalated somewhat after you spread several men’s limbs like you were decorating a dragon’s nest.”

“I’ve gone from commander to wanted criminal in the space of two days. Still, at least I’m not being chased by ferocious flesh and metal, just Torchlight’s finest armed farmers…” Tarklie rolled her eyes.

“Wanted criminal? Please commander sir, the militia won’t fuss in this sort of affair, it’s the grim gangs whose numbers you thinned and whose property I… well that stuff was all mine in the first place.” Maris’ face told a different story.

Tarklie’s eyes thinned as she mentally scolded her friend.

“Don’t be judgy.” Maris pointed at Tarklie and then threw herself on the quilted seating. “I get enough of those eyes from him.” She tilted her head towards Ting, currently unsure where to place himself in this conversation.

“You know you never told me what you were stealing in there yesterday.” Tarklie crossed her arms intent on pressing the attack. “No secrets and all. Let’s see what all that bloodshed was for.”

Maris sat in silence, pupils locked in place as her brain calculated her chances of slithering out of this situation. It didn’t take long before she tossed out the idea of lying to Tarklie out of her list of options. Tarklie was mildly naïve, but some things could not get past that gaze.

“Alright, but I wasn’t stealing anything. I hid things in that place before I left for safe keeping. Those fellows knew something was in there but couldn’t find it. I am a cunning mage after all.” Maris tapped at her temple and bounced her eyebrows up and down theatrically.

Tarklie looked unimpressed.

“Please smile occasionally, I need to feel like at least one of my companions has a soul. Ting, go fetch the sack from my room.”

Ting did as he was commanded and Tarklie could hear the little robot bustle in Maris’ room next door. The sound of dragging baggage filled Maris’ ears as she squirmed at the thought of her items being ruined.

Thank god they’re made of stronger stuff. Why couldn’t he be taller? Maris thought.

Ting scraped the sack along the floor up to Maris’ feet and then whizzed up to Tarklie in anticipation of a show.

With one final cursory glance at Tarklie, Maris tipped the sack upside down as a pile of bizarre contraptions began to litter the floor. Each one was made of the same sleek shining material.

“Etherium.” Maris spread her palms wide. “It may not mean anything to you, but imagine the most precious metal on your Mirrodin, then times its value by ten. People on Esper literally live off of this stuff. It makes everything, extends their life spans, and it can buy a man’s ticket from the slums to the high life. Most importantly however, it oozes with unending magic, and powers whatever device you make out of it.”

“Like your key that unlocks everything.” Tarklie asked.

“Exactly.”

“Is Ting etherium?” Tarklie looked down at Ting, who looked back with careful consideration.

I hadn’t thought of that. He mused.

“I doubt it. I have yet to meet anyone that has half a clue what he’s made out of, and even I can’t feel any power leaking out of those joints of his. Whatever it is, he’s nearly impossible to destroy. Probably some old armour plating.”

“Regardless, most of this is for self-preservation.” She picked up a metal band that looked not too dissimilar to a bracer.

“This slips on my wrist, give it a flick and-“ a long thing blade of metal shot in and out in the blink of an eye. “Hey presto, a punctured lung.”

Maris tossed it aside and picked up a small spider-like clamp.

“Slap this on a man’s head, neck or spine and he’ll be able to breathe and… not a lot else really.”

“Does any of this stuff not kill people?” Tarklie looked down at the pile and found very few hopeful candidates to her question.

“When somebody stops you in or around Torchlight, it tends not to be to ask a question.” Maris began packing her previous devices back into the sack, and then stopped when she came to a bulky but beautifully crafted bracelet. She tossed it over to Tarklie.

“If this removes the limbs it’s attached to, I can assure you I won’t be sacrificing my remaining hand for you.” Tarklie held it back out to Maris, who simply looked back at the jewellery.

“It’s just a silly old bracelet.” She snapped back.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to-” Before Tarklie could finish there was a thundering bash on the door.

Tarklie dashed towards her shield, swung the straps round and tightened it hard on her forearm. She pulled her spear and swung it low until its tip pointed dead centre to the door. A muffled voice shouted behind the door.

“You can’t hide yourself among the rich Maris. They won’t protect you. Nobody will protect you after yesterday. I have two dozen men ready to bash this door down. Come willingly and hand over what belongs to Grenley or we’ll toss you off the highest point of the mountain.”

“This is inconvenient.” Maris was weighing her options.

“When you told me things had escalated you didn’t mention it would be this quickly.” Tarklie hissed in a whispered voice.

Tarklie looked down to Ting and nodded towards the door. She knew what he could and would do if necessary and he seemed all too keen to do it. He sped towards the door.

“Hey, get back here. You don’t take orders from her; you’ll wind up stolen and serving Grenley tea and breakfast! What’re you gonna do, look at them affectionately to death?” Ting turned back to Maris, head down in defeat.

“They could easily have this house surrounded Maris, I knew this was a bad place to lay low.”

“Get in my bedroom.” Maris ordered.

Tarklie could only look at Maris in disbelief.

“What?”

“You heard me. I’m not as helpless as I make out. You and Ting both, get in the damn bedroom.” Maris shot her arm out like an angry mother. “Now!”

The three of them rushed into Maris’ bedroom as the thuds on the door began beating harder and harder. Maris held her bag of goods in one hand while she produced her etherium skeleton key from her chest. Her room was nearly identical to the one she had Tarklie sleep in, save for an enormous fur rug made from some animal Tarklie couldn’t recognise. Maris kicked it away to one side of the room and thrust her key in a hole chipped away from the floorboards. Like clockwork a small shaft opened up, and likewise Maris dastardly grin spread across her face.

“Surrounded my foot you of little faith. Don’t worry poppet, I’ll look after you.” Maris winked at Tarklie and shot down the shaft. “Ladies first!”

Tarklie and Ting gave each other questioning looks and then followed close behind. Maris was waiting next to a lever a few feet down and pushed it hard. The entrance closed as they hear the front door to her home explode into splinters. Tarklie could hear Maris muttering a short phrase and then the staircase tunnel was illuminated by the soft blue glow of her hands.

“Never forget – I’m more than just a pretty face Lord Commander. And sorry Ting, this wasn’t designed for people who can’t descend stairs. You made need to carry the poor little sap Tarklie.”

Ting looked at his master, perplexed. He surveyed the tunnel with his eyes and then sprung up to the ceiling, his rollerball sticking to the ceiling like glue. He rolled around above Tarklie’s head, and then produced his little arm to clang his tune once more.

Don’t. Even. Think about it.” Maris raised her hand. “They’ll hear you. And you never indicated in any way that you could stick to things. That would’ve been incredibly handy in past predicaments…”

“Where does this go, and where are we going Maris.” Tarklie asked.

“This will lead us out a back passage-” Maris stifled a giggle “Fitting for a place like this… Out of Torchlight entirely. Then we’re going to head to civilised territories and find ourselves a Planeswalker like your friend. We’re going to Bant, where the fields are green, the people are welcoming, and the residences are classy. If we find one of those walkers, we’ll hold them at knifepoint and ask them to sort you out. However it is you want to be sorted out.”

“I don’t think it really works like that.” Tarklie realised Maris didn’t quite grasp the gravity or the complexity of the situation. Everything for her was definitive. “But, it is a start. How do we get there?”

“That’s where things get difficult. We have a desert to cross, my old home shard to skirt around, and a very large and unpleasant epicentre where the shards are joined. Then we get to lands of grass and gold and, well, take it from there.”

“You make it sound easy. Come on, I’d like to get out of these tunnels. Bad memories.”

“Ladies first.” Maris nudged Tarklie ahead. “You’re my meat shield remember.”

Project #2 – Act 2: The Torch of the Shard Pt7

By the time I had come to my senses again, the darkness around me was swiftly closing in. I had been out there for far too long, and the way back would present a significantly increased chance of danger. At this stage in the evening the dead roamed in far greater numbers, looking for materials to bring to their master’s. The rest afforded me enough energy to slowly climb the hill with more care than I had taken on the way down, but the darkness made it significantly more terrifying. Shadows played tricks on my mind, showing floor where there was none, and exaggerating dips in the earth with striking clumps of shade.

I wheezed my way to the top, my hand drifting into the satchel to ensure my prize was accounted for. Had I dropped it then, I knew I would have flung myself after it. As I think back to that feeling now it terrifies me, and yet at that moment it all seemed so acceptable. I walked the path back to this hermitage, slowly at first. I kept my head locked to the left at the moving figures amongst the Dregscape, looking out for any sudden shifts that indicated I had been seen. There were two shambling figures walking towards me from the distance, bumping and stumbling as their attention was locked on the living breathing being in their sights. I quickened my pace, and after a few minutes of brisk walking I hadn’t notice my body enter a panic and begin jogging. Within a short time I was off the cliff and into the forest, two dozen heavy footfalls beating down on the ground behind me.

The dead may be a shadow of their former self, but they do not tire or feel. They can be quite fast when commanded to do so.

I transferred the sack from my hip to both hands and clutched it to my chest as I ran. The constant bumping was driving me insane, and make running in a straight line nigh impossible. It also felt warming to clutch it so close to my heart. It gave me a renewed sense of urgency.

Give it.

The voice echoed around the trees around me. The footfalls of the dead behind me had gone silent. I braved a gaze over my shoulder and there were no undead in sight. They had stopped somewhere further back. Or something had stopped them. As I turned back to the way I was running a face flashed into my irises. It was not the face of a man, dead or alive, nor the face I saw in the visions in the sphere. This was the face of a beast from hell, a chieftain of torments, and he was in my head begging me to hand over my prize.

Give it, and you will not have to return to the tiny existence you scratch out amongst the walking cattle.

He was enticing me with promises of nothing. I knew better than to trust the words of the devil, but in many cases you have very little choice. Despite the growing power building around the trees I continued running towards Torchlight, a maniacal desire in my head to return and work on this special discovery. Within moments I had noticed it had given up entirely on convincing me to drop my bundle and the hairs on my neck began to rise. I was blind to the trees and the path, still tearing my way towards homes but completely unable to process anything I was seeing. I had so much adrenaline surging through my body that I could feel every rumble and shake bouncing through my joints. My ears could hear the demon approaching from up in the trees and my nose could smell nothing but smoke.

That was why I could not see. The trees had been incinerated along the path, nothing but charred cinders remained on top of the already dead or dying stumps. Smoke clouds filled the air, polluting my already struggling lungs. The demon wasn’t approaching from the trees; it was simply obliterating them in its path as it crumbled them with hellfire at its mere touch. I had never known such destruction to create such little noise. I dared not look back in case it was close enough to snatch me, but ahead amongst the bellows of smoke I could see the dim dancing flames of Torchlight.

If I continued to run forward in a straight line, I’d almost certainly be doomed, so I took the next best suicidal option and dived straight into the dense patch of woods. It was a more indirect route to the hermitage, but it seemed a better idea to prevent long wandering claws from snatching me in the open. I needed a plan, but there was no discernible option of survival available to me. I could not outrun a demon as powerful as this; there was no way to make it to Torchlight in time. I needed help, but I had nobody I could call for.

Instinctively my hand slipped into the satchel and I rubbed my fingers across the smooth perfect surface of the sphere. It thrummed at my touch and I felt its probing mind reaching into me. It understood my fear, but instead of offering comfort, it seemed to simply catalogue it.

“Why aren’t you helping me?!” I screamed at it, desperate for a response.

It all felt so unfair.

I could feel heat on my neck and a steady buffering breeze of fire washing towards my back.

The sphere shot out of my satchel and began to mould itself a pair of wings. The wings became long and flat, pointed at the ends, until they were no longer wings. They were straight and sharp, becoming gleaming points capable of splitting a man in two with atom accuracy. I saw it flash backwards in my vision and heard a bellowing wail as a demon was sliced to a thousand pieces.

I have never heard a beasts flesh be torn apart, but it is a visceral noise I shall remember for the rest of my days.

A gigantic crash signalled the fall of the demon at my rear, but I was too scared to turn around and see for myself. All I wanted was to return home, all I wanted was my beautiful sphere that cared about my survival. We cared for one another, that much was obvious by this point. Without warning or request, I saw the sphere zoom over my head and hover in front of me, forcing my feet to a stop. It floated in mid-air, its blades gone, and resumed its inquisitive hum. I didn’t even think, I just opened the satchel and like a trained hound it floated in with a gentle nature about it.

Now I am here. Now I sit here, day after day, pulling this sphere to pieces at its own request, redesigning its core functions in a way that only my mind knows. It shares with my tiny amounts of information on its construction, pushing me in the right direction on a project I feel like I know nothing about, and yet I see its completion inside my head. I don’t know what it will achieve, and yet I am its remaker. Part of me wonders if I am really in control anymore, but I still manage to go about my day to day tasks. I eat, I sleep (occasionally), and I deal with customers. I shave small amounts of time off of my jobs in order to tinker away at this project, and then find myself toiling away in the evenings.

Today Maris came in; it’s the fifth consecutive time this week that she’s visited. She rarely brings anything to fix, but pays close attention to my own projects that now gather dust on the shelves or hang loosely from a vice. She has pondered across my once shining sphere, now a dismantled mass of beautifully intricate metals and stones and patterns. She says there’s magic in it, but has never stuck her nose too far into it. She seems to know that it’s foreign, a rarity, something to be envious over, and yet she shows me a certain respect. She wished me well in my work and said she’d be interested once whatever it is I’m creating is done.

A few days pass and I find myself making a separate contraption at this objects request. I no longer need to touch it to find instruction, but rather we share some kind of mental link that enables a steady stream of instruction. I have begun to realise it is purposefully leaving out the goals in its new design, but since it saved my life from eternal damnation, I feel I owe it a debt. This separate contraption enables a link between what was once the sphere, and now a vaguely resembles an automaton, and whatever the target is.

I have melted down the outer shell of magical metal and created a smaller sphere with control stones and a lump of its malleable liquid metal in a central chamber. It will be able to create its own probing tools on a whim. With the rest of the pieces I have given it a small body and largely cosmetic head. The remaining “power stones” reside in these two compartments, and drive the lenses I have created after salvaging some old sky scopes a customer left and never returned to collect. Assuming the designs are correct, it could probably inspect the individual hairs on my head. What concerns me most is that is hasn’t moved since the time in the forest. It allows me to tear it down and rebuild it, cut up its components and move them about, store them, arrange them. It doesn’t move an inch. It makes me feel rather uncomfortable cutting up something that seems so alive, and yet it seems unconcerned.

After a few days it seems to be asking less and less of me. Yesterday morning I woke up in the workshop, stood at the table with tools in my hand, halfway through an elaborate complex cabling job to this secondary contraption. I asked it then and there if it was controlling me while I sleep and it stood there patient and silent, those huge lenses staring at me lifelessly.

We are the next step in his evolution.

“You’re what?” Maris asked back at me.

I had lost half a day’s time and I found myself stood in the front of the shop with Maris’ impeccable face wrinkled in confusion. It was an ugly look for her standards.

I apologised and told her I was closing early, I had a lot of work on my mind that I needed to finish before the morning. It was half true.

Now I’m stood here, walking the line between rage and utter panic as I stare at the mouthless face I have created before me. I want to smash it with my fists, but fear it will cut me into a thousand pieces like it did to that demon. Like I did to it. The communication no longer buzzes between us, and all I can do is stare it down in the hopes it will spring to life and explain everything. If it kills me now I will be entirely unsurprised, but then there’s a part of me that’s curious if this is part of some wonderful masterplan. I want it to be. I doubt it, but gods do I want it to be extraordinary.

Then hours later the final instruction comes in the dead of night. For once I wake up in my bed, knowing I have put myself there only hours before. For the first time in a week I am doing what it requests voluntarily, partly because I have given up my free will, but also partly because I hope there is a brilliant light at the end of this horror. I sit in the chair and hook up the cables to my skin, screw the power probe into the small port on the little robots back, and then strap the remaining hefty cables onto my head. The final plate rests on my chest above my heart and I lie there in wait as my skin sweats and my head swims in a sea of questions with no meaning.

Then my body is charged, and something inside of me burns with the heat of a thousand demons’ fire. I feel the shard in my chest explode in some grand shower of power and I’m floating in a place full of stars and unending darkness. I look down and I see Torchlight like a canvas below me, surrounded by four more shards of dragon fire, water, trees taller than the largest necropolis and grand gleaming castles. I go to stare around at these millions of other stars in front of me, but my spirit is tugged back and the fire inside my chest drags me back away.

He’s in front of me again, this time with hope in his eyes.

You are what’s needed.

I feel myself being sucked into an impossibly small tunnel, and then everything is black again.

I cannot feel my limbs, but I can feel a body. The spark is still there inside me but I cannot will it to show me those wonderful places again. The magic is there just a hair’s breadth from my fingertips. I adjust my eyes and they refocus on the impossibly large desk below me and I my eyes are welcomed with the sight of my lifeless body, now mangled amongst the cables that fed from the contraption I had spent so many hours piecing together.

I am neither surprised nor in fear. My former self has become joined with the purpose of this machine, and it eases my worries. All along it wanted my help to make it become better, and wished to pay me the same favour. Its initial purpose was knowledge, but now its creator has a new task for it, and I am now part of that fate. I accept it with open arms, hoping one day I might walk the Blind Eternities once more.

My name was Keeting, but now I have a new meaning to my life, above and beyond Grixis.

I retract one of my arms and test it against the magical metal of my spherical transport.

Ting!

***

Project #2 – Act 2: The Torch of the Shard Pt6

I awake with a pain in my eyes, not the result of blessed sunlight or some beaming ray of artificial light, no, this is self-inflicted pain. I spent much of the sleeping hours very much awake, working away at something that came to me like an implantation in my mind. I had had the idea, but it felt like it wasn’t ever really mine. I have been an artful inventor for years, but even this, this is beyond what I would have been able to imagine.

I have lived in this hell my entire life. My selfish parents, along with everyone else’s on this forsaken landscape decided that it was a suitable state of things to raise a child. Many never make it beyond single digits, and the few that do eke out a terribly bland, worthless existence. Their lives are far better served, and tend to be longer living, once they pass over to the influence of a darker master.

I scrape the tight lip of my eyelids with the backs of my knuckles – they are rough and sore from a not so insignificant amount of work with my hands. I fell asleep at my work station again – if you can call it as such. My work with tools is a somewhat important trade among a population so reliant on prolonged use and recycling. I had dreams of being an esteemed inventor, but those dreams were quickly quashed when the realisation that the procurement of food was more important than personal education. I have delusions of being an artful inventor, I lie to myself frequently, and I am little more than a fixer of scraps. Those lies have slowly become closer to truths as I work on this alien idea.

The work is not entirely mine however. I was given a base from which to work from, delivered from the skies into a smoking heap of perfect pearlescent godliness. I remember the day, as grim and as lifeless as any other. I rarely venture outside the walls of this place, or I am more than likely liable to join the endless ranks of the undead that roam of their own volition. The Necromancers of these parts vie for control over their green mist, battle one another for domain over small parts of dead and worthless rotting ground, though that doesn’t stop them from having quiet periods. They leave their armies to doze on the ground, or wander the bogs and set upon unsuspecting travellers. The most valuable thing a man has is his own life, but here on Grixis, even than worth is little compared to the life force floating around in the air and the treasure to be found in abandoned necropolis. Most find they’re rarely actually abandoned, simply not well lived in.

I ventured out into the dead wilds in search for metal scraps, something to cut and hammer – something to keep myself busy in between repair jobs. I just wanted to hammer out a sheet and cut it to pieces for some kind of relief. Make a box, make a lock, anything to keep my already endangered creative juices flowing. I needed to show myself I could still create. It was also fairly useful to have spare sheet metal to do patch jobs with. I took the safest route, the path that has been worn into the ground by the hundreds of doomed travellers that place their faith in its safety. It winds around the forest and runs alongside the Dregscape, the land of the unending death. You have to skirt along the border of the Dregscape and the coast to the lost Isles in order to reach the Glass Dunes. The coast was where I was headed – that’s where so many sailors are washed up in their ships, though their bodies rarely remain at rest with their cargo. Necromancers are seldom interested in the riches you’re washed up in when there’s a perfectly fresh (albeit bloated) corpse to make use of.

I kept myself on the beaten path with cliffs and water on my left and the dead shifting landscape on the right. I had yet to cross the pass of someone heading in the opposite direction towards Torchlight; fresh living visitors are a rarity for Torchlight these days. I’ve made this journey enough times, but the Dregscape never ceases to terrify me. I chanced a quick look every minute or so as my mind saw a shifting shadow amongst the haze. The undead may not move quickly, but the summoned demons do. After an hour my neck already hurt from shifting it left and right, but I was close to the break in the cliff that leads down towards the rocky shores.

The wind was bitter, and I tugged my father’s old coat tighter around me. I could run a finger over two square inches and find at least a dozen areas where it’s been repaired over the years. My mother used to weave sack cloth into the holes because it was stronger, and by a certain point my father began to refer to himself as a scarecrow on frequent occasions. My mind flashes back to tugging it off of his corpse and my grip on it loosens. Mother had grown strange in her middle ages, as many do when you make it that far without having been buried six feet under yet. She took regular trips out of the hermitage unannounced, return unscathed but empty looking. Eventually she had returned one evening with such emptiness in her soul and blackness about her skin that I knew it was not her anymore, but she was not dead. No, she was possessed. Because the undead don’t lift shovels with murder in their eyes and club a man’s head in so violently.

It was a nasty trick, because whatever possession was over her, it had been released on completion of her task. As she immediately came to her senses she fled in horror of what she had done in front of her own son. I have not seen her since, although I sense that these cliffs had become her end. I recall looking down on this path for weeks thereafter expecting to see her broken body brought back onto the rocks by the waves. I have seen bodies down there, but never one I recognise. This time the rocks are uninhabited, but there is never any shortage of wrecks scattered across the great stones.

I reached the steep decline and took a last cursory glance to my rear to ensure therewere no devils following me or some opportunistic mouth breather. After brief consideration I descended my usual route, the hill providing some mild shielding from the wind. I could tell the hour was late at that point as the tide has begun to creep back up the long rocky shore. I had an hour at most to pry some metal banding from a mast or rob the holds for what little metal tools remain. I shifted my sack across my hip and hurry the pace, being careful not to slip on this already heavily eroded path.

Then a crack of thunder drew my head up to the dark and empty skies and I saw it fall. There was no lightning to follow the noise; just a projectile falling from the skies like a titan had discarded some inconsequential debris. My eyes followed its trajectory, making note of its perfect spherical nature on its way down. Within moments it smashed into the rocks, just meters away from the already encroaching tide. There were no explosions or fragments indicating destruction. I snapped to attention. I would not get this chance again. Recounting my experience I had less than twenty minutes before the tide engulfs the location of its crash.

I can make it down in fifteen. I thought.

I charged down the slope, feet slipping after nearly every step. Within two minutes I could hardly believe I hadn’t fallen to my death after the amount of near misses I had narrowly avoided. Dirt and rock crumbled beneath my feet and sprayed off into a cloud over the edge, like a spectral history of my route hung in the air for a brief moment. As I thundered down the hills irrespective of my high chances of death I simply thought to myself I do not care. For once I feel the rush of life and I carried on in my blind haste. After ten minutes of thoughtless movement I was almost near the bottom of the cliff and ready to dash across the rocks, but in my panic I realised I had barely allowed myself to breath. My chest was tight and the wind picks up but I charged on. Gods, I cannot miss this opportunity.

I dived off the last two meter stretch and onto the larger rocks at the base of the cliff, my worn boots losing all friction and sending my legs sliding forward as my rear end slammed to the ground. A sharp pain shot up my spine but the adrenaline allowed me to ignore the real damage. I slipped a few more times in my rush to stand and then eventually made it onto two feet and began hopping from rock to rock. The rocks began to get smaller and smaller as I made my way towards the tide, the results of hundreds of years of erosion. I could see the great wide pit that the object has blown into the shore just a few hundred meters ahead and started pumping my arms and timing my breathing. My body was utterly exhausted, my brain and legs were begging for air, and my heart was nearly exploding through my rib cage.

The tide is a mere meter away from filling the basin in which the sky object sits and I internally screamed for it to leave my treasure alone. I leapt into the ditch as splatters of water began to stream in, but I stopped stunned and could only stare at the beauty of the object that sat so perfectly unscathed in its centre.

Like an opalescent gem from the sky it is a perfect sphere, not a single piece of grit speckled on its dancing metallic surface. To my eyes it looked solid, and yet the surface of the metal flows with excitement. It made no noise, it had no smell, but its imperious beauty is enough to take hold of my soul. Like a slap in the face I stood to attention as the tide waters rushed in. The object is no bigger than a child, but I had no idea how much it could possibly weigh. I hurried up to it and seized it with both hands.

I see your face. It was a brilliant face, one made of concrete certainty and a bizarre caring indifference ingrained into that heavy brow. It simply gazed at me in hidden curiosity, cataloguing my features, my reaction, my existence. Those eyes probe my mind and fill it with an inquisitive thread that weaves itself around in my head, sampling my memories, inspecting my knowledge and supplanting it with its own.

I flashed back to reality as water rushed into my boots and soaks my toes. My brain felt scarred but my sense of urgency had redoubled. This object weighed little and I tossed it into my sack, taking care to cover it as I jogged back out the crater it has left in its wake. The tide fills it and washes it to and fro until rocks and sediment have entirely masked it’s footprint from ever having existed.

Only I know of your arrival, just you, me and the sea.

I wandered back to the base of the hill and sat on one of the larger rocks beneath the cliff. My body had been under severe duress, my mind was fractured, but I could not feel any of it right then. I sat down on my father’s coat and revealed what I had rescued from the forbidding elements of Grixis. I sat and recovered for half an hour as the tide reaches its peak, simply staring at my new found charge in life.