Well, we of the Expanded Multiverse are very proud to represent the finished product. But not yet. Over the next two weeks, the stories contained in the finished, fully stylized PDF file will be released right here, on the Flavor & Storylines forums, followed by the reveal of the PDF file itself, where you can see the brilliant artwork of our resident Keeperofmanynames.
Without further ado, here is Chapter 1: The Shards of Alara.
After hours of arguing, yelling, and general disobedience, the boy finished the night by refusing to go to sleep until he'd been told a story. The mother obliged.
"Fine, Taruk," Mahzahdi said as she tucked her child in under blankets of eagle down. "This is a story of many years ago, when I was still actively serving in Akrasa's military."
Taruk's eyes lit up and the boy grinned. These were always his favorite stories, those of his parents' days on the battlefield. "Oh, okay," the boy said, failing completely to hide his enthusiasm.
"Well, a long time ago, Valeron and Jhess were at war. The war lasted for many weeks. On one day of the war, ritual battle was called by both sides, and I was chosen to be a part of it. The focus was a young knight, barely in her twentieth year, and with enough sigils from her honorable deeds that she might soon become a paladin. I'll call her Collette. She was athletic and dutiful, but small for a knight. She showed no fear to her coterie, but I think she was scared. How could she not be? She was the one that would fight, and only the sigils of a dozen squires, soldiers and knights would be her battalion.
"It was then that we met Jhess's champion--Brynlonn, a rhox ten feet tall and three of us wide." Taruk's eyes widened, but Mahzahdi continued. "The whole coterie was paralyzed with fear. His footsteps shook the ground, and you could feel his voice in his chest. He called out, 'Jhess has chosen my power to bring their victory! Though we six are not weighed down with mere trinkets like you, my strength and training are unmatched!' All of us engaged in the preparatory rituals, we dozen and their six.
"Finally, it was time to fight, and it was brutal. For every strike, Collette barely dodged or was knocked about even as she blocked. As the power of our honor was further channeled through the sigils, Collette was able to deflect Brynlonn's hammer or more easily dodge his strikes. And then finally--and I'll always remember this--the songs of angels were coming from the sigils, and light surrounded Collette like a blanket. She dodged another of Brynlonn's swings and retorted with a mighty sword strike that cut through the rhox's armor and knocked him to the ground."
"What happened then?"
"Well, Collette got right on top of that rhox--so big she could stand on his chest with plenty of room to spare--and pointed her longsword at his face. She demanded that he surrender, and he did."
"Wow. She sounds strong."
"But she wasn't. She was short and thin and barely came up to the rhox's tummy."
"So how did she beat him?"
"Each sigil that empowered her, each squire serving her... Taruk, on this world, honor and virtue and obedience are more powerful than even a rhox's muscle. Remember that when you start being disagreeable," added a smiling Mahzahdi, tousling his hair playfully.
There was a grin on Taruk's face as he finally allowed himself to start drifting off to sleep. Mahzahdi quietly left her son's room, and outside, her husband waited for her.
"Why didn't you let him know where that story actually came from, 'Collette?'" asked the warmly smiling former knight.
"The angels smile on humility, too, Farzha," smiled Mahzahdi, and they both stepped towards their room for bed. Mahzahdi paused briefly on the way to gaze at her first paladin's sigil, mounted on the wall, awarded on the Jhessian shore after a battle against a grey-skinned behemoth whose power never matched her virtue.
Tara picked through the dense jungle as nimbly as a Nacatl. The jungle was alive with sound, birds roosting in the branches, wind ruffling the leaves, and humans hunting far below her on the ground. But the sound that most stood out, the one that kept her moving, was the dying cries of a gargantuan.
The beast had collapsed at the edge of her town’s territory, as the village healer, she felt obliged to see what could be done to save the beast’s life. But as she approached the location of the fallen giant, she felt a twinge of fear.
Though she had lived in the same jungles as the behemoths her entire life, she had never actually interacted with one. Her entire life was lived within the village, and each step further away from it made her realize how little she actually knew about the massive creatures.
Her thoughts were shattered every few moments by the deafening din of the behemoth’s howls. It needed her, it was hurt and dying. She was a healer, and it needed healing.
She put her fears aside, and pushed forwards.
Abruptly she stepped out of the jungle and into a clearing. A clearing in the jungle is a rare sight. The forest’s growth is relentless and any bare patch of soil is quickly swallowed.
She stood in stunned awe at the sight before her. Trees toppled as far as she could see, and in the center of it all was a mountain of flesh and bone. In its mad thrashing, it had cleared a large swath of forest, but now it laid hunched over, exhausted.
Tara climbed down from the canopy and approached the ancient beast from the ground.
The next few days were a flurry of activity. Trying to apply her healing magic to something the size of her village took considerable effort. She collected bushels of herbs by day while it thrashed about and howled, and worked on its wounds at night while it slept.
She was fighting a losing battle. The leaf patches she sowed to cover the wounds didn’t staunch the blood, and her healing magic barely touched wounds larger than herself. It was going to die…. She knew that in the back of her mind. The beast knew it as well, it stopped thrashing and laid still, breathing heavily as its chest rose and fell with the sun.
Then, one day, it happened. While working on the chest wound, Tara and the behemoth locked eyes. In that moment she knew it was thanking her, but urging her to give up. It had accepted its fate. It was ready to die.
The behemoth that had been the center of her world for weeks was done. She could admit it to herself now. She took the last of the painkilling herb she had collected and placed it into the noble giant’s wound. Its body eased as it drifted off to sleep. She wiped a tear from her eye as she climbed up to the canopy to await its death.
Part of her told her to leave, because she couldn’t bear watching the gargantuan die. But part of her told her to stay, because she would never forgive herself for letting it die alone. So she stayed, and waited.
She awoke in the night to a chorus of howls. She looked out into the twilight to see the gargantuan’s herd gathered around it. Like great trees they circled the dying beast, mournfully crying out to their fallen leader. The chorus of the scions rang through the forest and deep into Tara’s heart.
When she awoke the next morning, the herd was gone and the gargantuan was dead.
Tara stopped by the corpse one last time before heading out. In time the behemoth’s body will decompose, cover in soil, and transform into a fertile hill. And though she couldn’t prevent it’s death… she had forged a kinship with the giant beast, and that filled her with pride.
She had left her town as a healer. She would return a godtoucher.
On the hunt
Three days had passed since they started following the human hunters. Three days away from their mountains to adventure through the forest. Ach! The forest isn’t the place for a goblin. It’s filled with dangers, just like the plant which ate Nars. Killed by the flora, that’s a bad death even for a goblin. He wouldn’t end like that. But now, now they were so close to their prize. He could almost taste the fresh meat. Their preys were weakened from the journey, the figh…
A scream brought back Ruuk to the hunt. Bokd was charging headlong towards the surprised humans. He should have charged immediately, alongside the rest of them, instead he hesitated. The battle was going to be difficult, they were outnumbering their preys only two to one. When they begun trailing them they were four to one, but the forest has no mercy for goblins. Ach! Just like everything else in the world. All he could hope for was a nice death. Not like Serg who drowned while they were crossing the river. Some of that water would’ve been nice, he was thirs…
Fignar pulled Ruuk by the arm, out of his mind and into the fight. Their preys were putting up a ferocious resistence. After all, they were hunters. The four sons of Murlk bravely fought against a single surrounded human. Zorv fell when he stumbled over Bokd corpse. Poor Bokd: first to charge, first to fight, first to die, as always with goblin raids. Well, being killed in battle is a fine death all in all. Muax downed a warrior maiden and got killed while stunned for the emotion. That’s the prize goblins receive for their prowess. Murf and Orgyl fell together to a single spear, ending like meat on a spit. They sort of funny, in a sick way. Svafn ducked an axe swing, jumping behind a tree and quickly answered with his javelin.
The skirmish was not going well for the goblins: a crazied human, covered in scars, was rabidly taking down goblin after goblin, unfairly seeking single combat. Joop, Trab and Ghiw fled from the battlefield, while Limn instead opted for a strategical retreat. Fignar’s spear finally put an end to the man’s frenzy.
Then, through the heat of battle, Ruuk suddenly felt a much more tangible heat. The prey of the human hunters. The biggest hunter of them all. Now it was everybody for himself. He run and then he run and then he run. And then he tripped. He looked back to see he was already safe. A scaly snout, two angry eyes and dozens of hungry teeth answered a roaring NO!
Even though he was paralyzed by fear, Ruuk felt somewhat proud. He wouldn’t have bitten the dust against some damned humans. Fate reserved for him the most honourable of deaths. He was goin…
The dragon’s hunger interrupted his last thoughts. If Ruuk still had been able to think inside the beast’s stomach, he would have been satisfied.
by Tevish Szat
From across the dregscape the word had come. To every bolt-hole and every hideout, every hidden, secret fortification, every point of light where vitals rallied against the death and the dark, the word had come. Not since the fall of Sedraxis, Vithia’s once shining jewel, had such words been uttered as were passing in whispers between the mortal holdouts. Not since forever had anyone dared whisper the word hope upon the dregscape, and yet through its vastness the word had come all the same.
Not everyone listened to it. Some knew better, that this new rumor of a land of safety was nothing more than rumor, at best a fever-dream shrieked and echoing across the dying halls then carried upon to distant climes that knew not its provenance and at worst yet another guileful trap to lure those last holdouts from their places of safety, onto the dregscape to die. Still, the word had come, the message was clear. Come home, scattered children of Grixis. Come to Vithia’s heart and its soul, somewhere you will be safe and provided for. Come out of the darkness.
Adar Hahn had forced himself to believe in the words that came on the lips of weary travelers, of the tales of a Vithian retreat where the stink of fetor and decay was warded out of every street by perfumed censers, of a place where they had banished the demons and the banewasps and the slaves of the necromancer barons that stalked around every corner and in every shadow. For his wife and his daughter, he had forced himself to believe.
The road was harsh and long. At times, it didn’t seem clear, but the longer they followed clandestine signposts and countless whispers rising together to a secretive roar, the more he was certain their path, however long and however hard, wasn’t leading onward into doom. A trap, after all, would have been kinder to itself and incidentally to its victims, ensnaring them swiftly once they were past the confines of their bolt-holes and hideouts, not after months of pilgrimage across the rotted world.
Grixis itself, though, had always had a way of refusing to be kind.
The Kathari were circling lower that day than they had for the past few, as though they knew somewhere in their rotted minds that something was going to happen. The sky, raging and acrid high above, was oddly still, rarely spitting flashes of lightning from cloud to cloud, more a dark mass than a raging, festering horror.
They struck from the earth, not from the darkness like they had before, but from the very ground beneath their feet, as though the dregscape itself was hungry for more carrion. Adar Hahn watched in horror as the bones sprung up, as his wife was impaled and the spears drank up her blood before it could be wasted and spilled upon the earth. He could do nothing but watch as foam pink with blood roiled over the lips he had kissed in stolen, tender moments, as her visage became pale and, life draining from her, she mouthed the word “Run”.
It was the encouraging he needed. He had a daughter to live for, and the only thought one could spare for the dead was to set their bodies alight so the necromancers would not take them. Adar Hahn filled his mind with a burning need to get his child to safety, and when her short legs couldn’t carry her, he took her hand to pull her along a little faster as she cried and screamed for her mother.
Grixis always knew your weaknesses. Sooner or later, Grixis always struck them. Sooner, rather than later, it came for his daughter.
Panic and exhaustion were what drew the Kathari, he was sure. They came down on their sickly black wings, and Adar Hahn raised the rusty knife he kept as a weapon in defiance. He knew they were bluffing: he was alive, and far too large to carry off as prey. The Kathari knew it too, and when he put both hands on his knife to ward them off, one swooped down behind, and bore his child into the air.
If that had been it, he would have followed, would have dared to hope to find her alive at some foul nest, but the child as well was too much for the Kathari to bear for long. She gave some final struggle, and fell from the bird-thing’s grasp, down onto the dregscape. By the time Adar Hahn crossed the terrain to where she had fallen, he had to fight off the Kathari, yelling and flailing at them to see what he dearly had not wanted to see: just another mangled corpse, somewhat smaller than most, split asunder and torn apart on the dregscape.
It was the day after that Adar Hahn found the stranger, or the stranger found him. He had lost his orientation, his way to Vithian salvation, so to see another vital was welcome relief. If the stranger, twisted as he was, was a necromancer or a servant, he told himself he would be glad. Maybe the dead didn’t remember.
The stranger had a hovel, of sorts, and invited Adar Hahn in. He brewed concoctions that smelled of something other than rot, noxious herbs relieving in their difference. They sat in silence for a time, and then the stranger spoke, his smooth, deep voice soothing most of Adar Hahn’s mind but putting the hair on the back of his neck on pricking edge.
“You have a look about you of a man treated unfairly.” He said. “Let me guess, on a wild pilgrimage for utopia?”
“You could call it that.” Adar Hahn admitted.
“And you’ve realized… it isn’t what you dreamed.”
“Say no more.” The stranger replied, giving the hints of a smile. “I know how it is. All too common. You’ve found your way to the right place. I can help.”
“I can make you forget. Piece by piece, until you’re at peace.”
“What does it cost?”
The stranger grinned, his crooked, yellow, and rotting teeth more predatory than inviting. “Nothing you will lament being rid of.”
* * * * *
Adar Hahn woke up in a strange place. He remembered, vaguely, entering the hovel, and remembered that it was near another one, belonging to a stranger. Why was he there alone?
He remembered his pilgrimage. He could remember the call. Come to Vithia. Come to its haven. Come where it’s safe and pure. He had been traveling there with his wife and his daughter. He remembered them at his side just the night before. Where were they?
“Layana!” he called, his voice echoing across the darkness. “Alya?” Neither answered, and he stepped out of the small tent, noting the larger hovel adjoining it. Had he just taken the worse set of hospitality?
No, he wouldn’t have… He couldn’t remember splitting from them, was sure he’d rather sleep on a floor with bone shards than let his wife out of his sight.
“Layana, where are you?”
A stranger came out from the hovel, his back hunched with protruding bone, his yellow, rotted smile somehow both kind and cruel. The stranger shambled forward.
“Now, now.” He said, “Don’t worry about that.”
“It’s my wife!” Adar Hahn shouted, “My wife and my daughter! How can I not worry?”
The man frowned, shook his head, and patted Adar Hahn on the shoulder. “You must be confused right now, but trust me, it will pass.”
“Where is my family?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“How can you say that?”
“I know you better than yourself, Adar Hahn.” The stranger said, smiling again.
“Let me tell you a story.” The stranger replied, “Once upon a time there was a man sitting upon the dregscape. He had no idea who he was, or why he was there. A demon appears next to him, and asks him what is his third boon. The man looks at the demon in confusion, and says he cannot recall a first or a second. The demon produces a contract with the man’s signature, and says that for his soul he was granted three boons, but that his second choice was to undo the first. The man thinks, and says he knows what his third boon shall be. He wants to know all about himself, and all about where he is and why. He wants the answers to all his questions about the world and the past. The demon grins and says it knew that would be his choice. Can you guess, Adar Hahn, why that is?”
“Because, the demon says, that was the first boon I granted you.”
“So you’re saying I’m the man on the dregscape?”
“Was it so obvious?”
“And that would make you the demon.”
The stranger laughed. “If you want to think of it that way.” He reached a hand towards Adar Hahn’s forehead. “But trust me, you wanted this. And it is for the best.”
Adar Hahn’s world went black.
* * * * *
His hand quivered, and he forced himself to still it. The words needed to be crisp and clear. This would be his legacy to himself, his record should the stranger come again. He had already lost so much! He was sure of that score, though how much of himself was gone he couldn’t say. The fetid earth of the dregscape burned well enough, sputtering and charring into a black mass that he crushed to power with a fragment of bone. He hoped he had enough as he put a tough, thick strip of leather between his teeth and took the razor in his left hand, pressing it to his skin. By the time he was done with his right arm, it would be in agony, and his left would look no cleaner than the right. If he started the other way, his right arm would be illegible and therefore useless. Small cuts, he told himself. Careful.
Your name is Adar Hahn, he wrote in his flesh. The razor wasn’t as sharp as he had hoped, but that was good. The words would scar well. He rubbed the black dreg soot into the wounds, then washed off the skin around the wounded words with what little water he had. The lines appeared black as night against his pale flesh. They would scar black. His future would have a past.
You have a wife named Layana, he wrote, You have a daughter named Alya. Find them. Find your family.
He could remember their names, and their faces barely, and Adar Hahn knew that he wouldn’t have left without them. He couldn’t remember why he was on the dregscape: the stranger had stolen that much from him, but Adar Hahn would make sure the stranger would take no more. Rubbings of soot over razor cuts, vague washing attempts, examining the bitter scars. Flesh was the only constant on Grixis, the only thing that was ever really yours. He put his testament in permanent, living flesh. He switched the razor to his now unsteady right hand
Do not trust the stranger, he wrote, The man with the bone-hunched back. The man with the cruel smile. Do not trust him. Do not let him near you. He has stolen your life. Do not trust the stranger.
When his work was finished, Adar Hahn stepped out onto the Dregscape. The stranger was waiting, and looked at Adar Hahn with a frown.
“How many times?” he asked pleasantly, “How far shall I have to go? And look what you’ve done to yourself now.”
“You did this to me!” Adar Hahn yelled. “You stole my life!”
The stranger shook his head. “You sold it to me.” He said, “Just to be rid of it.”
“Where is my family?”
“I thought you might ask that.” He shuffled forward, and Adar Hahn brandished the razor.
“It’s for your own good, too.” He said, “I’ve been a generous friend to you, Adar Hahn, but you leave me no choice. I suppose it was always going to come to this.”
* * * * *
The man looked across the world he had no word for. Something about it was revolting, deep down in the core of his being, but he ignored that little twinge and took in the air. It smelt the same as it always had, just like the land looked like it always had. He couldn’t remember why or how it was this way, but he was sure nothing had changed.
He sat down on the hill he had woken up on, put his elbows on his knees, rested his head in his hands, and watched the roiling sky and rotting ground, so strange yet so familiar.
There were markings on his arms, he noticed, strange black lines that gave him a slight pause. He thought they might be… words? But he couldn’t decipher them, their lines and curves holding no meaning at all. He knew what words were, how to think them, and as he muddled with his mouth how to say them. But how to see them? No, there was no way. They couldn’t be words, he must have been mistaken Maybe, like the ground and the sky, those marks had always been there.
* * * * *
The lethemancer examined the dull, fractured crystal that contained Adar Hahn’s bartered memories. His whole life, down to learning how to read and write. It was more than the usual pay, more complete and pure than any he had harvested in a long time. Perhaps this would be a token worth something. Perhaps, he thought as he placed Adar Hahn’s memories alongside a few others, he would have enough now to buy back something of his own. He fancied his name first. It would be good to have a name again, and after seeing Adar Hahn, he worried that history might not be what he really wanted to trade for.