Urabrask remained still, his serpentine eyes fixed upon the deity that loomed above. She was seemingly looking on her works thus far with total disinterest. Urabrask had never felt so bare and vulnerable, and instinctively pressed his form closer to the ground in hopes that Marit Lage would go on her way without turning her unpredictable attention on him. He had subconsciously been holding his breath for the last few moments, his body’s memory of the fight with his brother already erased by terror. The longer he stared, the more the situation grew unbearable.
What you lack in intelligence you make up for in wisdom by tenfold, little praetor. Her voice sang through his head, invading areas of his conscious and touching them in a way that felt like a fracture.
A great buzz ignited the air around him, the sky grew restless, and within a moment the great figure in the sky disappeared into a hum as her form evaporated. The air settled to normality, and Urabrask found himself alone again, without a single living being in sight. His chest released and his lungs clutched in his throat for air as his senses returned to some semblance of sanity. He wanted to collapse. He wanted the ground to eat him up painlessly and allow him to continue being without any level of sapience interrupting a simple existence.
His senses fired off again.
Can there be no rest in this world? He thought.
“I hear leadership isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” A familiar voice taunted in an elegant female voice.
“Do this traitor of his kind a mercy and cut me into pieces, then bury them, so that that false god can never raise me for her use.” He uttered back, wistfully.
“Strange talk for a Phyrexian.” Glissa’s voice grew closer.
Urabrask remained still, ready. Old habits.
“Greatness at any cost and all that. I thought you’d be glad to be a part of Phyrexian history that sees your pure kind traverse the planes.” Glissa wandered up to the side of Urabrask, never looking directly at him, but surveying the surroundings of her old home.
“We all fall Praetor. If you think this ends with your survival, I want to know what faulty gene or process enabled you to feel such false hope.” She paused. “I saved this plane once. Then I was labelled a traitor. I became a part of its end, and now we are cogs in a new kind of end for this brief moment. None can survive this. It is what they are. I should know, I was very nearly one of them.”
“They? I never thought you anything more than a slave, past or present.” Urabrask grew curious, passing a gaze across Glissa’s stern exterior.
“Planeswalkers. They are gifted the means of travel, and squander it. They use it to explore and simply meddle. I was robbed of my gift. Our new god is one, I have seen the way they move between the worlds. The creator of the first of us was… is one too. He created this rock in the multiverse and then abandoned it as he grew bored. He left us as mere children to carve out a stake in this place under a broken regime and this infectious disease.” She looked down at her hands.
“Not that I’m complaining mind you. It has its benefits.” She slide two fingers together like cutters.
“These planewalkers sound no different than us.” He proposed. “Yet our history with them shows they hate the very fibre of our being.”
“Most gods do not like to look into hell and find themselves looking back.” She flicked a thumb up to the empty sky. “Unless of course you’re the one that made hell in the first place like your adopted mother up there.”
“Sometimes there’s just bigger fish than you. You either get crushed underfoot or conform. If you’re lucky you can make it benefit you along the way. Nobody knows this better than I.”
Urabrask had not thought this kind of frank conversation between Glissa and Praetor… or anyone for that matter would have been possible. Still, to him she had made more sense than every one of his brothers and sisters. Glissa understood the fleeting nature of her presence here, and had managed to thrive under such tumultuous circumstances.
They sat there in quiet contemplation for a few moments more, Urabrask soaking in the silent beauty of the glade. He could see why the elf would hold her home in such close regard. Glissa’s demeanour had changed since their brief altercation beforehand. Laying eyes on such a grand terrible being as Marit Lage had its way of quickly changing the beholder’s immediate priorities. But what Urabrask saw in Glissa was not some new watershed moment of inner peace, or grand realisation. No, what showed in her posture was a new goal, a new drive. An opportunity had presented itself, and she was ready to set a plan in motion to seize it. Her laid back attitude towards Urabrask was not kindness, it was a professional courtesy.
“I will see this to its end.” He uttered to her as he pulled himself off the way he came.
“Yours or hers, little Praetor? Decide what you want Urabrask, because you and I both know it doesn’t fall into standard parameters for a Phyrexian.” Glissa arched her head to the side to wait for Urabrask’s response as he disappeared into the tangle.
“Both, I hope.” Urabrask stopped just short of the clearing.
“And what do you intend to do when our great war across the planes is waged, Traitor?”
A smile flashed across Glissa’s face in private.
“I will tend to Mirrodin.”
Sounds of the good work echoed across the corridors as he scuttled down towards the core room. Specimens were few and far between as of late, the Mirran population dwindles and as such the experiments became more difficult. In their desperation they had taken to keeping the subjects alive for as long as was physically possible with their fragile forms. They developed ways of keeping the subject alive through methodical approaches, without skewing their results outside of acceptable constraints. Subjects were now used for multiple tests at the same time to keep up with the Augur’s time structure. Faint wails drowned into sobs as the conscious parts of the subjects were kept subdued, their natural brain neuron firing interrupted so the body could not respond to the brain’s requests – mostly screams.
He didn’t stop to inspect the work, he didn’t have time. No, he was instructed by the few of their esteemed order that relayed with the surface that a planar expedition was fast approaching the horizon. The Augur would be pleased to know of the opportunities. He had also received word that the haughty self-serving white Praetor was most violently put to an end – information that would be most agreeable amongst the intelligent caste and their master. He even had news of Vorinclex’s acceptance of service, something which was most suspiciously out of his character.
Perhaps news of planar invasion was enough to envigor even the most simple of Phyrexia’s creations, such opportunities! He thought to himself. Such simple beasts as Vorinclex always made such a mess of things, but their master had thrived under such toil thus far. With any luck the less enlightened would be the first in line to the battle. Their caste had always been responsible for putting the brutes back together, and when one had such little to work with in the first place it made their life all the more difficult.
It would prove most insightful to work on the body of a Praetor, however. He tapped his grease-ridden mechanical jaw with lofty ambition. He wondered what they did with the body of Elesh. Such wastefulness.
He approached the core room, the corridor still bent up and patchy from where an errant manabomb had been detonated. Much of the area had been obliterated but it hadn’t taken long for his caste to make quick work of rebuilding and improving the area, this time more suited to Jin’s needs and general stature.
His exoskeletal mechanics chittered in excitement as he approached to entryway, now purely mechanical instead of those insufferable flesh holes. Jin practiced in private and took on only the most esteemed of tasks. He taught his brood to strive to remove flesh from the equation and find betterment through technological means; it was their sacred duty as the highest operating level of Phyrexia. He had to be sure not to interrupt at a critical moment, or he would have a large portion of his body removed for experimentation and kept alive to endure his transgressions. It was the best form of self-reflection. Sometimes one even got to reflect upon their own body as it was exploited in front of them, the ultimate kind of progress. In that he envied the Mirran that they got to observe their ascension to near perfection. They were the fuel that helped reach the ever approaching goal of final iteration. A pity they spent their appreciation on making such noise…
He pressed his metallic body against the door gently, probing with listening drums across the surface to gauge at what stage was most prudent to gently make his entrance. The news he had to bare was not to be sullied by imprudence. With focused attention he listened with every care. The inner room remained silent, his window was clear.
With gentle precision he fiddled with the locking mechanism and the door retracted its six panels and opened to allow him an artful entrance. Eyes to the ground he floated in, revering his Augur master with reverence as his limbs waved and bowed.
“Great Augur of the Core, I bring news of the…” He stopped as he noticed Jin-Gitaxias frozen in surprise and irritation as he crawled his way down from the tall throne that once seated the golem Karn.
The servant briefly forgot himself and then quickly resumed the task at hand.
“Master Jin, it brings great relief to tell you that your sister Elesh is dead. I have a great many other items on my instruction; however I thought this to be the most prudent to your immediate interests.” He stopped and waited for Jin’s response with eagerness.
He had to wait a few moments longer than anticipated as Jin-Gitaxias menacingly clambered down towards his subject, without word or clear intent.
Why was the core augur on the throne? And why did he seem so displeased for me to catch him in such a situation? He posited to himself. Perhaps now was his time to die for his accidental insolence. He had no doubt he would be recycled with fruitful results.
Jin-Gitaxias was nearly as tall as his brother Vorinclex, but significantly weaker due to his serpentine body. His entire height was built up by layers of metallic plates, woven together with sinewy parts and needles in imprecise locations, entirely unbefitting of his stature. Most of his body looked like a looming mechanical spine, with the exception of his long pointed head and gangly arms. His particulars were built for surgical accuracy and tight observation of every discernible data point they might collect. To his brood he was a marvel of Phyrexian science and engineering. To his brothers and sisters, and the now extinct Mirran, he was a backstabbing sycophant whose sole interest lied in senseless torture of his subjects for his own enjoyment. He thought himself above all other living life, the true heir to Phyrexia, and the one most well equipped to lead them to a final evolution of perfection. The sight of him was enough to instil terror in all of Phyrexia’s enemies, a common trait among the most powerful. Jin’s followers did not fear him however. They envied his excellence.
“Apologies for my intrusion great augur…” His served bowed his head in a slow and measured fashion, entirely accepting that his consciousness might end in a few moments.
Jin loomed over the small Phyrexian, long spindly arms hovering close to his body, needle-like fingertips scraping away at one another.
“You are my seventh iteration, are you not?” He rasped, neck craning about the room in search of eavesdroppers.
“Yes. Your most esteemed iteration yet, but our flaws are numerous and your next iterations will no doubt be doubly impressive in comparison to one such as I.” His servant remained still, still entirely unsure of the outcome of this curious line of questioning.
Fool, you just insulted his work.
“Numerous… flaws?” Jin straightened, his irritation vanished through a haze of intent absent thought.
After a moment his attention re-entered the room.
“What flaws have you observed?” He asked, genuinely curious of the scientific outcome of this line of questioning.
The small blue Phyrexian raised its head and was visibly confused.
The great blue Praetor wishes my opinion on something?
“These legs are impractical.” He gestured towards his lower limbs. “They are fundamentally hampering the progress of this form in general, and are simply a recreation of the limitation of the inhabitants of this plane.” He stopped and thought a moment more.
“Hmm!” Jin nodded, strangely positive about his minion’s criticism, willing him on.
“There are numerous unnecessary facilities within this area of the abdominal-“
“Elesh is dead. What other news?” Jin interrupted, a sudden change washed over his present mood.
“-I. It is.”
“Your mouth is impractical I see. We will fix this.” Jin grew impatient.
“Sheoldred, the Praetor holed up in the Vault, has returned and taken Elesh’s place in the citadel. The joint creation Atraxa lies in pieces, Urabrask grovels beneath the feet of whatever commands him, and a great being descended from the sky to oversee the expansion of New Phyrexia across other planes. Sheoldred, on behalf of the great new Mother of Machines, the so-called Marit Lage, has requested that you oversee the longevity of our presence here.” He blurted it all out in a very matter-of-fact manner before drifting his eyes up in thought.
“I believe that is all.” He nodded.
“My most esteemed creation is… dead?” Jin’s impatience grew to the embers of fury.
“Yes, the new Mother of Machines, the so-called Marit Lage, annihilated her during her defence of Elesh.” His minion seemed blissfully unaware of his master’s rapidly deteriorating psyche.
“She has killed Elesh… and Atraxa… and made herself our false progenitor…” Jin’s teeth grew agitated, grinding away at the metal that made up his long jaw.
“Ah yes, and Vorinclex has been repurposed.”
Jin’s eyes flashed back to his minion.
“Repurposed by whom?”
“The new Mother of Machines, the so-called Marit-“
“LAGE. MARIT LAGE. I AM AWARE THAT IS HER NAME.” Jin expanded to his full height, his voice reverberating through the throne room.
“Yes, core Augur, I apologise. She… she crushed him and then raised him as her own. Allegedly.” He pointed a finger up at the last word. “She is a self-proclaimed god of the multiverse. Powerful thought she is, a god, I very much doubt. Genetics, more than likely.”
Jin-Gitaxias’ anger grew to an explosion, then his intelligence overrode the thought, and the harsh reality that if this great being had destroyed his brethren so easily and without retaliation, his own longevity was at stake. He wanted to bury himself in work, relieve his stress generated by this inescapable predicament by inspecting a live autopsy, or witness the varying subsonic levels of the various races’ screams in quick succession. His perfect effort and work was threatened, all logical thought was at the risk of being tossed aside in favour of lesser advancements, and now his grand thoughts of leadership were in tatters.
And yet, the thought of fresh new subjects from different worlds enticed him away from his compulsive and logical foundations. The other Phyrexians could fight for scraps of war and attrition, but as long as they provided him with the living results of the carnage, he could further his own schemes to drive the Phyrexian form to greatness. There was the simple issue of avoiding this great godlike destroyer, or at the very least avoiding the potential of being “repurposed” by it. He looked down and saw the Phyrexian beginning to reflexively retreat inside itself, the looming threat of swift and grisly obliteration had grown significantly on its mind.
“I am to take charge of New Phyrexia?” The Praetor asked the tiny figure.
“Yes, Augur. You and your brood will take charge here while the other factions travel and conquer.” He replied, growing ever more confused at his master’s constant change in tones.
“The entire domain will be ours for improvement. The core, the lacunas, the dross and the entire damned forest.” Jin’s mind began wandering again.
“Shall… Shall I return word to the forces at the citadel, Augur?” This was his servant’s self-supplied queue to leave.
“No.” Jin-Gitaxias turned to his messenger and leaned in close from above. “You are correct.”
“About what my master?”
“Your legs are impractical.” Jin plucked up the Phyrexian within his claws. “Those and the rest of you are surplus to requirements.”
His claws sliced cleanly and silently into the tiny doll-like creature in his grasps at all angles until its body slowly went limp without a sound. He instantly felt sick relief, but the enjoyment of killing his own kind could never rival that of a test subject, wholly unwilling to face their end to no real benefit.
He needed to set schedules and plans in motion immediately if his brood were to expand across the surface. Boundless new opportunities were within his reach, and he would be entirely uncontested and unhindered. He could build a Phyrexia in his image, designed to improve from the core up.