Major Vectus peered through his binoculars. The world was changing daily. More of his world was merging with more of another world. A world of castles and knights. Of weak flesh.
Vectus twiddled his filigree fingers. He heard a loud noise and turned around. His daughter was picking up some food she had dropped. “What are you up to honey?”
The young girl picked up the food, “Oh just getting a snack. How’s it going with you.” Vectus turned to the window and peered across to the gleaming castle in the distance. “Not well. We are evenly matched.”
Amour Vectus was a lonely girl. She stayed inside, and spoke to few. She came to the basement storage area, opened a door to the linen closet, and walked in. This area was forgotten by most.
Amour put the food on a shelf and walked to the back of the room. She removed a pile of clothing to reveal a young man.
The boy was no older than her. His hair was untamed, a farmer’s son perhaps. She had learned about farmers studying the information gathered by her father. His flesh was untouched by metal. And despite this fact, he was healing quickly.
It was curious. The idea of etherium was to improve the physical form, and yet this boy’s form was perfect. She smiled. The boy hadn’t regained consciousness since she found him.
The sudden emergence of the castle and surrounding land created havoc on the metallic landscape. Water from the green pastures flowed onto Esper. The water sought out the easiest path and created something Amour had never seen. It was a natural stream. It wasn’t engineered, it wasn’t redirected to increase efficiency, it simply was.
Amour came to the river every day. She just sat for hours watching the crystal waters. One day when sitting, she spotted a body. It was a boy. He was bleeding, and battered. He must have been caught in the recent battle.
Her father told her to pity the castle dwellers. That they were imperfect. That they were ignorant.
She brought the boy to her father’s outpost and hid him under a pile of linens.
Vectus scowled. He had lost a lot of men the previous day. Too many. A guard popped into the room. “Major Vectus, may I have a word?” the major waved the guard to continue. “One of my guards has observed your daughter enter a storage area. We thought you would like to know.”
Vectus thought for a moment. “Search it.”
Amour came to the closet to find it in disarray. It had been searched. She rushed to the back, and tore through the pile of linens. She found no one. She screamed.
Vectus stared out blankly. He ground his teeth.
Amour entered in a huff. “You had no right.”
“I had every right. You bring an enemy into my outpost. I told you, no pets.”
“He’s a person dad. A living, breathing person. He is not an animal, and he is not a savage.”
“I know,” Vectus smiled. “I made him acceptable.”
“Oh, no you didn’t. You didn’t.”
“As we speak he’s getting his first infusion of etherium. His wounds will be healed, and his body will be perfected. In a few weeks he’ll be fit for life in the outpost.”
Amour wept for weeks. Vectus couldn’t stand emotions. And that’s all that his daughter seemed to be filled with these days. Each day more and more grass sprouted up. Trees and houses, barns and cattle rose up. Amour just sat at her window and looked out.
She saw a cart come down the road driven by a young man. She recognized that face anywhere, it was the face of the boy she kept. She ran down the stairs to meet him at the cart. His face was untouched by eitherium enhancement. The boy stood up.
“Are you Amour?” He asked. His voice more beautiful than she ever imagined. Amour nodded.
He smiled, “They tell me that you’re the one I should thank for saving me.”
Death was never something that Taric had truly feared. In the past, all discretions were solved through single person combat. Each side of the field would be full of cheering knights rallying around their champion, empowering him with arcane magics of glory and hope. Now however, as he lay on the battlefield bleeding from under his chain mail, he realized how much he had lived in a fairytale world.
These were not people of honor, or even lowly thieves he was fighting. These were the spawns of evil, brought to life with hatred flowing through their veins. Their sole purpose in life, or unlife as it may be, was to kill for their master, and kill without mercy. Taric had seen these horrors rip through bone and sinew, and feast upon their lifeblood as it drained from their bodies. Their faces were visages of absolute torment, and pain. His own neighbors he saw die before him, when not even a year ago they had spent a warm summer’s evening enjoying a feast with each others families. Now they were just another meal for the demonic creatures of Grixis.
Something suddenly stirred next to him. A putrid skeletal form slowly started to rise from the fallen bodies around him. What sorcery was this that reanimated the already dead? What unholy acts of blasphemy did this creature perform in order to overcome the limitations of life? As it extended its hand down to a fallen weapon, pieces of its flesh fell to the earth and infected the ground where they landed. It hauled to its shoulders a long, chipped and rusted scythe, attached to a blackened bone of some long dead demon. At the sight of this Taric gasped in surprise and shock, which drew the attention of the zombie. As it shambled closer, now hefting its deadly weapon into a position with more leverage, Taric began to contemplate death once more.
When it seemed like the end was truly near, and he could feel the cold hands of death grasping him by the neck, the world stopped. The zombie held fast, as if frozen in time. The battle around him slowed and halted. The only thing with any free will of motion seemed to be him. As he gazed at the sight around him, a soft voice spoke into his ear.
“Do not fear, you are safe for now.”
“Where am I, what limbo is this?” said Taric.
“This is no limbo, faithful warrior. I have merely slowed time to allow this meeting to occur. Your nation needs you, as do your brothers in arms. Will you stand to protect them?”
“I would if not for my condition. I’ve been wounded beyond repair. I could feel the icy grip of death on me mere moments ago,” explained Taric.
“Do not fear, you shall be healed, but in return you must use your renewed life to do the bidding of the angels. Will you accept my blessing?”
“For Bant I would gladly give a thousand lives. I accept your blessing.”
With that a heavenly figure descended from the clouds. She glided down gently upon wings of pure ivory and landed in front of his splayed body. She slowly bent down and leaned in over his forehead and gently placed a kiss upon him. Instantly he felt his wound staunch and heal. Blood once again flowed to his limbs and heart. He felt his strength return and flexed his muscles to test their capabilities.
“Before you go noble warrior, allow me to grant you one last gift in the hopes that Bant will survive.”
With a wave of her hand he felt something fall gently around his shoulders. Looking at his back he was amazed to see two heavenly wings extending out of his back. His sword also glowed with an unearthly light.
“Go forth and slay the enemies of Bant, you have Asha’s blessing and mine.”
With that she was gone leaving behind only an ivory feather. Around him the world sprang to life again. The sound of battle around him returned and more bodies from both sides of the battle fell. The zombie before him stood with weapon raised, muscles bulging as it begun his swing. But before the scythe reached the apex of its swing, the zombie found a blade lodged deep within its chest. The purified steel struck home and the zombie’s spine was severed in two. It crashed to the ground in a heap; its flesh falling away, and its bones crumbling to ash. With a flutter of his wings he took to the sky. A new hero had been born on Bant, and with his new life and strength Taric would do all in his power to rid his home of the vile Grixians.
Fire blazed to life inside the cramped space. Venndi screamed. She almost lost concentration on her protection spell. Without it, the massive weight that surrounded her would crush in.
Besides Venndi, the protective bubble was also occupied by a ragged man named Jourak. The odd man with braids in his hair held the fire in his hand.
“Only agents of Malfegor can produce fire so readily,” Venndi said shaking, “And only his agents could hold it in their hands.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just on a life hunt when my tribe ran into yours. If you would prefer I’ll extinguish my flame.”
“No…” Venndi rubbed her sigil, and kept her other hand on her dagger. “I need the light to concentrate.” She shifted back to the edge of the protective bubble. “Just stay on your side.”
Jourak poked at the edges of the bubble. The barrier flashed white when he prodded it. “What manner of sorcery is this?”
“It’s a simple protective spell. It’s meant to catch arrows, but it seems to be holding up fine here. Hopefully it will hold out until my comrades can get me out of here.” She ran her hands along her dagger.
Jourak smirked, “Your tribe is probably crushed dead, just like we’re going to be.”
“They’re not my tribe”, Venndi retorted “They’re my army. And they’ll get me out.”
Time passed. The bubble was stifling with the heat created by the fire. Jourak shook his waterskin, it was empty. Venndi pulled a red fruit from her pack and threw it to Jourak. “I want you to know, I don’t intend to die here. And your fire is helping me keep us alive.”
Jourak looked over the fruit. “Sure, we can’t live civilly, but we can die civilly.”
Jourak ate the fruit in a few bites.
“Are you human,” Venndi looked over Jourak, “Or are you some sort of demon?”
‘I’m as human as you.” Jourak ran his callous fingers through the flames. He showed his unburned fingers,” I’ve just survived worse.”
Venndi examined the fire from a distance, “How can it burn without fuel?”
Jourak clenched his fists squeezing the fire out from either side. “It’s simple survival magic… any child can do it.” Jourak smirked.
“Simple!” Venndi said, “I’ve been in hundreds of battles, and I’ve never seen magic like this.”
Jourak shifted uncomfortably in his corner, “I’d say its fair turnabout. This magic is something I’ve never seen.”
Venndi explained, “I’ve trained long and hard to perfect it. Arrows and blades can’t pierce it.”
Jourak slunk back into a sleeping position, “That’s the difference I guess. Where I’m from, if faced with arrows you just take the hit and cut down the archer before he can reload.”
The sun must have set because Jourak had fallen asleep. The Sigil Venndi wore kept her from feeling tried or hungry. Venndi lit a torch and for the first time, since this whole ordeal began, she felt relaxed. The unfamiliar magic had ceased, and she was alone with her thoughts.
She rubbed the handle of her dagger. Jourak was a tough man. He was a born fighter. But Venndi was sure she could slit his throat before he could react. She checked her torches. She had three left. Each would burn for eight hours. Together they would give her over a day of light. If her men couldn’t get her out by then… they weren’t going to at all.
The solider of Bant pulled her dagger out of its sheath. One quick motion, and he would be dead. She shifted it in her hand. He’d barely feel it, she told herself…
Why do I care if he’d feel it or not.
She lowered her dagger, and sheathed the blade. Despite his crude remarks, besides his odd ways, he was her friend. He was someone to talk to. And she knew she’d regret killing him. She sat down in her area, and concentrated on her spell.
Just waiting for him to wake up.
Days pass. The two lost adventurers talk of their lives. Growing up on the ridges of Jund, and attending balls in the gardens of Bant. Every time Jourak would go to sleep, Venndi would light another torch.
Her last torch flickered as Jourak woke. His face showed distress. His eyes were sunken in. Black ringed his eyes. His face was haggard. Jourak conjured fire in his hands. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” Jourak sighed, “This spell is designed to light fires, it’s not meant to be used for a long time.”
The bubble began to fill with smoke, as the fire died slowly.
Jourak’s eyes fluttered and he keeled over. He moaned. Venndi moved closer to the man and put her hand on his shoulder. “Jourak are you okay?”
Venndi began to cough uncontrollably.
The smoke obscured all sight. The fire finally died.
The protective bubble rippled then collapsed.
Deep within the Naya jungle a Behemoth paused.
It coughed up a cloud of smoke, and then continued on its way.
At last, Kresh reached the highest most point of the Great Volcano.
No being in his sane mind, may it be Goblin or Human, would normally dare climb the Great Volcano. Even the greatest of dragons only fly past, avoiding roosting on it. This is where one of the greatest forces of Jund lay dormant, awakened only if they were disturbed.
The trip here alone took over seven hours, over three of which were spent climbing the Volcano and another two hiding in a tiny cave from a persistent Hellkite that wanted Kresh as an appetizer.
If he could avoid it, he wouldn’t want to climb the Volcano either. However, his clan numbers dwindle by the night by creeping horrors and zombies from that cursed piece of land. Although using fire could efficiently burn off a great number of them, but their numbers seem to keep replenishing every day, to the point that the Clan had to burn off the corpses of dead members to save them from being turned to such a horrible abomination. Such undeath was an insult to the natural food chain as well as the natural life cycle, and must be removed from the ecosystem as fast as possible.
Kresh knew something had to be done. Dragons, being the masters of this realm, would never listen to the words of something only worthy as an appetizer, and a great number of them have moved to the other side of Jund, where he heard rumours that there were meaty gigantic beasts and couldn’t blame the dragons for migrating over there. He had only one option left, and it is to disturb the slumber of the forces of Jund itself. He was well aware that this expedition would likely be a life-costing one, but to restore Jund’s balance, that death would be a glorious one, even so much as hunting down a hellkite hatchling single-handedly.
Now that he was at the top of the Great Volcano, he had to be doubly cautious, as he had no idea what these forces of nature looked like at all. Taking out his sword, he cautiously stepped on the uneven, rocky surface of the peak, being prepared for anything that might just burst out of the lava.
After around forty minutes of cautious stepping about, Kresh began to wonder if these forces were ignoring him, have left the volcano, or didn’t even exist in the first place. He took another step.
The ground moved.
Sensing danger, Kresh immediately jumped nearly five steps’ distance back. The ground he was standing on less than a second ago slashed upwards, slicing of the front half of Kresh’s sword cleanly.
Kresh could only stare with awe and he watched as what he thought was the ground rose quickly in front of him. He immediately had positioned his sword in a defensive position and panicked when he saw that what remained of his sword was the bottom half of it.
Kresh could only stare at the now awakened elemental, which was emerging fully from the lava. The elemental stood in the lava, its indistinguishable face looking down at Kresh. It moved nearer and looked like it was smelling the scent of Kresh. Kresh hoped it could smell the rotting stench of the hordes of undead he cleared the previous night and perhaps even understand what Kresh had came for.
With no hint of any emotion or warning, the elemental slashed Kresh across his body diagonally.
Kresh dropped his sword and fell to his knees. His chest and arms were bleeding profusely. ‘Is this the end?’ he thought ‘that not only have I died here, but failed to convince the forces to aid Jund to restore its balance?’ True panic ran across his mind as he thought of the days ahead for his clan and for Jund. He panicked over the unnatural death of Jund itself.
Painfully tilting his head, he saw the elemental had doused the arm it used to slash Kresh into the lava. The same arm rose slowly from the lava and over Kresh. Kresh had collapsed from the ground from fatigue and his heavy injuries, facing the sharp arm of the elemental.
A drop of lava fell from the edge of its arm on Kresh.
Kresh felt the burning sensation through his injury and body. He screamed in true scorching pain. However, after a while, both the burning sensation and pain subsided. Kresh looked at his slashed chest. What remained was a black scar that looked as rough as the edges of the elemental.
Kresh immediately got up and looked up. The elemental was gone, leaving a pool of lava where it was. Turning around, he saw the elemental cruising through the lava and realised that the elemental was almost two times larger than it was when it was first awakened. The elemental proceeded to the edge of the peak, used it arms to slash and break some rocks and lava flowed down the volcano, with it cruising along with it, in the direction of the undead frontier.
Kresh felt a glimmer of hope at last. The elemental could understand what he was here for. The price he paid for it was heavy but worth the cost. Slowly he proceeded to descend the Great Volcano. He was too injured to search for another powerful ally like this, with convincing the first nearly costing his life.
As he descended the Volcano, he saw that the elemental was cruising across the savage lands and seemed to be even larger now, and saw a group of thirty goblins splitting up and fleeing for their lives. He understood the elemental’s source of power.
“Born of volcanic forces, it thrives on the absolute panic it inspires.” Kresh whispered to himself.
‘Now those abominations will learn to panic and fear’ he thought.
‘Not even they stand a chance against a world which would fight for it own survival.’
“We can’t reach for our future standing in the past.”
Gret scowled, spoke a word, and set the man ablaze. His screams died down quickly, leaving only silence. That shut the rabble up. There would be no more talk of leaving today.
Gret was merciless. But one had to be merciless in the cruel world of Grixis. Society was a pile of tinder just waiting for a spark of rebellion to burn the world to hell. He wasn’t about to let go of his power.
Gret stood in the darkness. He always thought best at night, in his study. The only light in the room was a tiny candle flame. He looked over a map. The parchment was yellowed with age and drawn in blood and charcoal. Across the paper from the circle named Scarhaven was an X drawn with a heavy hand.
The X was new.
The door to the room opened. Gret had half a killing spell out of his mouth before the intruder spoke.
“Gret it’s me.” Gret stopped and let the magic fall out of his mouth. He felt a surge as the mana flowed back into his blood. The voice belonged to his close friend and confidant Peo.
Peo stepped into the candle’s light. “Great show today. The rabble really enjoyed your show of force.”
Gret stared intently at the map. “The only thing people respect is power. Show one sign of weakness, and they’ll tear you to shreds.”
Peo put on a grave face, “Sir, I wish you would reconsider. The people are demanding action. You aren’t winning anyone’s favor ignoring them.”
Gret looked up, “Get me a drink.”
Overnight three buildings were burned. The arsonists were brought down by a hail of bone arrows before they could cause anymore damage. The masses demand action.
Gret just sat and looked at this map. Looked at that damn X. His trouble all started weeks ago. Some vagabonds had settled outside of Scarhaven. They spoke of a great forest that rose out of the black dead earth some distance away. As the nomads had said the forest simply sprang up overnight. Gret’s personal scouts confirmed the story and gave an exact location for this new forest.
Then the problems started.
Peo entered the study with little urgent news. “Sir, the fire cost us a lot of resources. Not only did we lose three buildings, plus all the supplies they housed, we also lost a lot of morale. No one wants to rebuild. They just want to move on to the forest.”
Gret sighed, and placed the map down on the ground. “Here,” he pointed towards Scarhaven, “is us.” “This,” pointing at the X, “is the forest. Between the two is demon territory. We go out there and we won’t live to see the forest.”
Peo stood straight, “We die either way sir. We stay here and die a slow death, or we die walking towards a new home. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll reach it.”
“I’ve spent too long keeping these people alive to turn around and feed them to demons. Survival is key, and the best chance for survival is here.”
The guardhouse was attacked at dawn. The rebels came from all angles with swords and bombs. They came out from everywhere like rats descending on a fresh carcass. Most of the guard died without raising a finger. The rest fell to swords and fists.
His hands shook. That’s how nervous he was. The smell of anarchy was thick in the town. There were too few guards, and too much dangerous talk.
Peo knocked then entered the room. “More reports. People are demanding that you let them leave.”
Gret looked at his friend. His eyes were sunken from lack of sleep, his face aged with stress and tiredness, “What kind of king rules over an empty kingdom?”
“You don’t need to stay Gret. You should lead them. Lead a glorious procession to the forest.”
“Peo I built this place up. I erected its walls. I’ve seen it stand up against undead armies. I’ve seen it withstand demons. Scarhaven is the safest place in the area, perhaps all of Grixis. And you’re telling me that I should abandon all that safety in order to go a forest? No, that won’t do, won’t do at all.”
“Well if that’s your final decision.”
Gret felt a pinprick on his neck and swatted at it. He felt a tiny thorn sticking out of his skin. He pulled it out. It was a tiny dart made of bone. Hollow. With black liquid dripping out. Gret looked up at his friend. “Peo?”
“I’m sorry sir. I didn’t want this to end this way. I’ve always admired your work securing Scarhaven. You’ve kept this town together through the worst of it. But… But when I heard that a forest had risen up in Grixis… I felt something I’ve never felt before…”
“I felt hope”
Gret’s skin blackened. The discoloration started in the veins then spread out into the rest of the skin. It was spreading towards his face.
“You… you were the one organizing the rebels.” Gret’s voice was weak.
“I’m sorry,” Peo’s voice wavered, “I had hoped that if I applied enough pressure you would change your decision. I see now how foolish it was to think I could do so.”
Gret screamed as the poison reached his brain.
Peo leaned down over the convulsing body of Gret, “Don’t worry Gret. I’ll take them to the forest safely. They’ll all make it to the forest safely.”
Gret’s screams died down quickly, leaving only silence.
The next day, people began to get ready. They packed their meager supplies, and said goodbye to their hovels.
The rabble gathered around Peo at the town center. He smiled a leader’s smile, pointed in the direction of the forest, and took the first steps towards certain doom.
He could listen no more to the feared musings of his tribesfolk. Quatalat, the tribal chieftain, had been locked in his hut for hours. He had said that there would be no preparations for war, no calls to arms, for the invaders encased in metal or scales would never be able to survive the hunting grounds of the behemoths, the gargantuans, the ancients. And even as villages and rivers were disappearing as though they had never existed, as new and bizarre lands defiled and rewrote the landscape, and survivors both Nayan and otherwise appeared with increasing frequency and telling insane stories of impossible worlds, Quatalat was living in denial and demanding that the rest of the tribe do the same.
And so, he left the dining grounds, leaping up and climbing a tree that had developed strange, spined bark over the last few weeks. The tree's covering was painful, but the blood-red sap that it now bled helped the climbing.
In the boughs of the massive oak... or whatever it was now... he looked up at the stars, and the sky offered smatters of strange stars and alien constellations that shone in impossible colors.
He heard her voice before he heard her climb. She was always more silent than he was.
"It's frightening, isn't it? I almost got lost trying to find my way back last night. I can't tell direction by the stars anymore."
"It's more than frightening. The godspeakers say that something big will happen at morning. Something bigger than the mountain-of-fire that rose on the other side of the valley."
"Then we have a night."
"A night is not enough. No number of nights will ever be enough."
"Well, it is not up to us," she said, sitting beside him in the bough he'd chosen for himself. "It never is, and never has been. It is a new sky. Let's enjoy it for as long as we're able, and then what happens tomorrow... happens."
It was cold comfort, but there was wisdom in her voice. He cuddled up next to her, and both of them sat in silence. He realized that she was right. He inhaled deeply. Whatever will happen will happen, he thought to himself. Finally, both his companion and the soft light of the stars brought him some peace.
She bathed in fire-hot water, scented with oils and cleansing salts, brushing jasmine and rose flowers across herself. When she finished bathing, she stepped from the ivory bathtub, she uttered the Prayer of Good Graces and lit the appropriate incense. Stepping from the bath chamber, her attendants toweled her, brushed her hair, cleaned her teeth, applied a small amount of makeup to accentuate her natural beauty, and set her hair into the braid of a warrior. They then dressed her in cotton cloth, mail underclothes, and strapped her into her plated armor.
After the attendants had locked her pauldrons down and dressed her in her tabard, she gave them the double-nod that they were dismissed. One attendant simply gave the half-bow that signaled she was waiting for further instructions. The knight, making no sound save the soft brushing of steel on steel, gently touched the attendant's cheek and looked deep into her eyes. She gave the double-nod again. The attendant left.
They were not knights, not warriors, not Sigiled. She would not ask them to die a knight's death.
She strode from her chambers and he greeted her in the castle's grand hall. They gazed deeply into each others' eyes and hearts, and then turned and walked to the top parapet of the main keep.
From there, visible beyond the castle walls, was the profane landscape that the savannah had become. The ground itself had become a cancerous mass of muscle, skin, and bones. The armies of the undead had finally ebbed, if ever so briefly. They would return again; if there were no more to amass on this chunk of desecrated land, they would come from one of the other governances or provinces in Eos, and the lady and lord simply did not have enough knights to fight back another onslaught. There would never be enough knights.
The lady and lord entwined their fingers. Something even greater and more pronounced than what had happened already was coming, and soon. Nevermind that the Sighted had confirmed it; this could be felt in their bones.
He and she both put their hands on their swords, tensing to defend themselves. Whatever happened come dawn, they would face it like knights.
He scrambled from one end of the observatorium to the other, manipulating spheres and gauges and sextants. "No, no, no, no, no, no," he spoke, chanting as though offering a mantra to Bant's angels. He was feeling anger and frustration build up inside of him, and that was strangest of all; he'd had the emotional centers of his brain removed decades ago.
Finally enraged to the point that even basic math was beyond him, he grabbed the mana sextant and hurled it across the room. The discordant din of shattering metal filled the room before running from the silence that followed. He stood, head hung, shoulders slouched, the picture of defeat.
Minutes later, she stepped into the room and gasped. She ran over to him. "What happened? Are you alright?"
"No! Nothing is alright!" he snapped. "I've done the calculations every way I know how! Whatever happens tonight is a clairvoyant dead zone! There's no telling what it does or what happens next!"
Her mouth moved several times, as if trying to remember how to form the words. Then she said, finally, "I've never heard you like this."
He examined her, keeping an arm's length from her. "I've never been like this. These other worlds are influencing everything about this one. They are a corruption.
"I... I'm so close to figuring this... anomaly out. The equations and symbology aren't adding up, but... I'm so close..."
She reached an appropriate hand to touch his shoulder, but he shied away. She said, "Perhaps there's still time to see events beyond it, or determine its cause?" She gave a very precise smile, designed to communicate hope and confidence. She found it unlikely that there was, despite her facade.
"No. It happens tonight. Tonight just isn't enough."
He paused, and half-heartedly turned his eyes to the windows. She followed his gaze there, and finally walked up to the glass to determine what he wanted her to see.
Her voice cracked then, a hollow, metallic little chirp, not unlike a dog's whimper.
For centuries, since the mages of Esper had mastered the weather and tides, a thin, barely visible grid of light blanketed the sky. It was a rigid, cage-like geometry that painted itself in thin purples and blues against a field of stars, a constancy that every Esperite could look to and reassure themselves that, yes, some things were eternal.
Now the lines were chaotic and formless, as if, she thought, a hateful, bored child had recklessly etched colored lines across the pristine sky.
She felt despair. Hopelessness. And for the first time in her life, she experienced rage.
She huddled amongst the broken, rotted parapets of the old castle, looking on in abject terror towards the sky. The lightning had slowed, and clouds were parting. In the tales her parents had told her, and their parents had told them, and so on, it had been uncounted centuries since the storm had covered the world and stayed there.
She looked into the breaks in the clouds, wondering and fearing what might lurk in that darkness.
He tenderly redressed the banewasp sores that covered her body. He squeezed zathrex fungus, letting the juices flow into her wounds, painful but necessary to prevent disease. The tatters of cloth that they rested on, the closest thing to a bed in this world of eternal desolation, were soaked through with sweat summoned forth by unnaturally warm weather and a shared, unspoken nervousness.
"Hope is torture," she said, using her unmaimed arm to wipe her brow.
"What do you mean?" he said dully.
"The adepts and shamans say the next thing that happens will be big. World-changing. How much will it change, I wonder?"
"I don't understand."
"When I was born, I was told stories. Of ancient Vithia. Of a world not ruled by demons, with ample food and clean water. I was told that the kingdom would return. But believing that maybe it could was worse than anything. Worrying, wondering, trying to find reassurance. I never found anything like peace until I accepted how the world was, and started living in that.
"But now the very world is to change, as if it hasn't enough. And then I wonder... how much could change? Could my mutilated arm be healed? Could my eye see again? Could my banewasp sores close?
"Hope is the worst infection on Grixis. Whatever happens, come morning, it should be destroyed."
"Hush now. We could still escape to one of the other worlds. I hear stories of other humans travelling to the fire-realm and the metal-world and finding help there."
"We would never make it, companion. We would never get past the demon lords that infest the lands on both sides. Even if we did, we'd never make it through the kathari lands."
She sighed, and he did something he didn't understand. He cradled her gently in his arms. He didn't know what it meant to do such a thing, but it seemed right, and she buried her malformed face in his embrace, sobbing gently.
She was right, of course. He had never known even five minutes without fear. It hovered over all those still living, covering them like a shroud. Hope was so much worse. Hope gave the fear meaning.
Still, it was tantalizing, beautiful but dangerous. He was willing to risk the horror of hope dashed if it meant the possibility of hope succeeding. And, he resigned himself, it's not as though we'll have much choice.
Night on Grixis was bleak, merciless, and eternal, but it wouldn't be enough to kill them.
He stood amongst the broken bodies of the reptilian viashino, screaming to the heavens. He'd slaughtered them all; not even the largest of the thrash had been able to severely hurt him.
He needed more.
If what the pitiful outworlders from that ridiculous jungle-place said was true, the end might be here soon. He would not die like them, mewling and fearful of the sky. He would die as a warrior, as a hunter. He would die on his feet.
He screamed. He looked to the soot-choked air (less and less choked every day, as though even the volcanoes and dragons feared what was coming next), and bellowed his war-cry until he was hoarse. He screamed after that, until what had been a bellow of unfathomable strength, the sort that could call out a hellion or dragon and give him a proper death, strangled to a weak scratch.
It was no use. He'd been trying to get himself killed all night. The smoke cover was beginning to lighten.
There was no night left.
She met him on the way back to what remained of the tribe. There was shockingly little left after so many cataclysms and the invasions of both foreign people and foreign geography. She, though, was still strong, muscular, lean. Beautiful.
"I see you're still alive," she said with a lopsided grin that never failed to make his heart dance.
"Yeah. Denied even a warrior's death."
She embraced him, kissed him. "I have been denied that, too. So I say we live our last morning like we'd live forever."
He looked into her eyes. Such fire! Such lust for life! He had always loved her, for she was everything good in the world wrapped in flesh. His heart hurt, scared only of losing her, his former disgrace forgotten in that moment.
They joined, body and soul, what could be one last chance at joy and happiness. As night finally gave way to dawn, they lay in amongst the jungle foliage, watching the sky.
Clouds disappeared. There were hundreds, thousands more stars in the quickly-lightening heavens than any had seen before. As they watched, they could see ephemeral, dreamlike images of earthbergs, lavalanches, iceslides, fleshlakes, and even stranger phenomena colliding, reforming, and taking even stranger and more wondrous shapes amongst the constellations, an ever changing painting of wonder and awe and terror with the empyrean itself as its canvas.
At the horizon, then, slowly, five discs, multicolored and iridescent, began lifting above the unique topography of their world, bathing everything in a glorious, shimmering brilliance. The brightest light they had ever seen, a luminescence greater than they could ever describe, forced them to look at the event, and though their eyes should have hurt beyond measure, they felt only a renewed serenity in their very souls.
Five suns, shining of liquid summer, tempestuous gold, perpetual storm, radiant void, and molten strength.
The suns rose in a slow arc towards each other, their light growing every brighter as they approached. Achingly beautiful minutes passed, and finally, slowly, the suns touched, bathing everything in their vision in colors they'd never before seen and possibilities they'd never before contemplated.
There were no words.
He held her close, their eyes transfixed to the glorious new heavens. He whispered something to her, and she smiled. She lifted her palm skyward, as though she could cradle the newborn sun.
Small enough to hold in her hand, but full of possibility and promise.
I suppose the downside is that it would be just like now, only in the future. And I couldn't get on the internet for places like this, because... well... you saw the episode. Not that going online full-body wouldn't be cool...
All I know is that this place would be a lot steamier if we went in full body. And I'd blame Keeper for it.
@Skibo: Not much content was initially generated during Innistrad... we ran maybe one or two short story contests, I think just one. However, what was generated in that was really high quality, overall.
However, we had done a good amount of work on a Scars anthology...
I think It's worth talking about next steps in the EM proper
"Enjoy your screams, Sarpadia - they will soon be muffled beneath snow and ice." THE COALITION WAR GAME -Phyrexian Praetor Round 1: (4-1-2, 1 kill) Round 2: (16-8-2, 4 kills) Round 3: (18-9-2, 1 kill) Round 4: (22-10-0, 2 kills) Round 5: (56-16-3, 9 kills) Round 6: (8-7-1) [current round]