One Year Later

“I hope you get sent to the deepest darkest void there is asshole!” Tom screamed to himself as he slipped back into existence.

I’m in your brain aren’t I? That’s about as terrible as it’s going to get.

“Gods you’re such a smug bastard!”

Are you going to calm down anytime soon? I only took the reins for like a minute. 

“Prick!”

I guess that’s a no on the not slinging obscenities at me, even though I not only saved your ass, I helped you save two of your friends. Oh well, whenever you’re done, I’d like to point out that we’re back now.

“What?”

In the campus. You know that place you were bitching to get back to for the whole ten seconds we were gone. Tom looked around, as if noticing his surroundings for the first time.

“That can’t be right.”

What?

“This place is grown over if we were only gone for a few seconds there would be fire everywhere and no plants. Look, you can see plants everywhere here.”

…Yeah about that… I may have skipped us ahead a bit.

“Ahead? To when?”

“Don’t move!” A female voice shouted at him from behind. Tom was caught completely off guard. He had been so caught up yelling at his unwanted passenger that he had failed to check if the area was actually safe. This could be anyone. Some lackey of Lee’s perhaps or maybe the lackey of some other malevolent force he didn’t know about. But one thing was for sure this was totally someone’s lackey. Tom raised his hands deciding whoever it was is probably going to have a bad day when he turns around. “Wait… Tom?”

The once threatening and authoritative voice seemed to soften into a confused tone. Tom, deciding the only way to know for sure who this mystery woman was is to turn around. So he did so. Tom was surprised to see Leah on the other end of this voice.

It was Leah. Although she looked different than he remembered. Her fairly long hair was tied back into a ponytail keeping it neatly behind her back. She had also swapped the skirt she normally wore for a pair of pants, probably to allow greater mobility. And over all the normally clean and tidy person that she was had a general grunginess, like she hadn’t bathed in a while.

“Leah?”

“You’re dead.”

“Nu-uh, I think I would remember something like that.”

“Tom, I know you’re prone to random bouts of disappearing at critical times, but its been a year. You were declared dead along with all the other missing mages after The Sundering.”

“The Waah?”

“The Sundering, that’s what everyone calls that night. Tom, where have you been? We needed you.”

“I got thrown into the time-stream. What happened? Where’s everyone else? How many survived?”

“Everyone’s…”

“Tom is that you?” Leah was interrupted first by a section of weak wall that collapsed. Followed by two people walking through the newly formed hole. It took him a second to recognize the brothers.

“Denis? Deon?” He definitely  knew them. It became even more clear when they reacted to the names. Like Leah, they also looked very different from the last time he had seen them. Denis used to be a fairly heavyset guy. Although his sudden discovery of diabetes had spurred him along to begin losing weight. It had been a challenge even after they had been transported to this plane, but he had evidently lost a lot of weight and seemed to have gained a little muscle too. He still managed to maintain his braided hair as well.

Deon on the other hand had had a bit of weight on him was also a stronger guy. He also seemed to have become leaner and more muscular with recent events whatever they may have been. His beard was trimmed back some from the normal length Tom had been accustomed too seeing, and he still wore that black do-rag of his. Tom could see other changes in them, but he saw many things that had stayed the same.

“Hey man long time no see.”

“Yeah, What are you guys doing here anyway this place looks empty?”

“We abandoned the campus.” Leah interjected before either brother could respond. She then turned to them. “Denis recall your perimeter we’re returning to the truck.”

“Roger.” Denis responded a little defeatedly.

“Come on Tom we have a long drive ahead of us.”

“Drive? Since when did we need to drive anywhere here?”

“Since we moved to a new location a very long way away. Now come on, I can explain more while we head back. People are probably going to be happy to see you.”

~#~#~#~

The drive was indeed very long. They rode in a massive red truck with wheels large enough to handle most terrible terrains. It allowed for relatively easy off road travel and was probably a mudder’s wet dream. If Tom had known anything about cars he would have been able to tell that the owner probably invested a great deal of money into it and likely wouldn’t have given it up easily.

When they had first gotten to the truck several wolves had appeared surrounding them. It had triggered more than one alarm in the back of Tom’s head. Until they had bounded up happily to Denis and acted almost like dogs. Once the wolves were loaded up, Leah had both brothers sit in the bed of the truck with them while Tom and her were in the front cab. Whatever she wanted to talk to him about seemed like she didn’t want to have interrupted again.

They drove in silence for the first hour of the trip. It was an uncomfortable silence that had a level of foreboding that the Izzet ‘walker did not like at all, but he remained silent a little longer before he could muster up the courage to speak.

“Why a year?” Leah suddenly blurted out

“Excuse me?”

“You said you got thrown into the time-stream that night. Why did you come out a year later? Why not a day or a few hours? You have control of some time based magic did you cast the spell?”

“Sorta…”

Ooh yes please tell your friend that the eldrazi living in your brain took over your body and flung you forward in time to gut the monster you created before it ate you. I’m sure she’ll love that.

“I was fighting Lee and got hit with the rebound of one of my spells. Then that thing appeared and I had to escape. So after exhausting my ability to fight it… I sorta suspended myself. I didn’t really know where I was going or how far I just drew enough power to release me when the spell was fully cast. One Year Later I popped back with you shouting at me, and no idea what happened.” It was a lie, but at least a believable one. “What happened Leah? A year ago Denis and Deon were barely D ranked mages. They weren’t even allowed to enter the tournament because of stability issues in their magic. Now Denis has a pack of wolves at his command? And their both going on what I assume are missions? What happened to our other high ranking mages and planeswalkers. I can’t imagine you being sent this far out to play babysitter.”

“They’re dead Tom.”

“Who?”

“Everyone. The highest ranking mages that survived the attack are Me, Mike, and Nick. Everyone else is gone.” Tom felt his chest tighten as if someone were slowly crushing it. He struggled to breath. After several long moments of silence he responded.

“Are you sure? I saw Zach and Sandra make it into a shelter.”

“Nick told me afterwards, but he was tracking their progress up until the explosion. Several shelters were breached by that thing, those that were had no survivors. After the explosion though, we have no idea. You’re the first survivor we’ve found in a year. Everyone else we have we found within days. Nick still sends patrols to the campus in hopes of finding others but until today nobody has ever appeared. And it’s getting harder for him to justify to the council to keep sending us. My patrol had to last two weeks because of restrictions on sending people out.”

“Hold on, what do you you mean restrictions? When did we have restrictions to leave anywhere?”

“Since always?” Leah replied somewhat surprised by his silly question. “Leaving campus was always restricted due to safety concerns. Mages with a certain level of competency weren’t restricted and non-mages could go to area’s that were deemed safe, but over all we were never allowed to explore. Didn’t anyone tell you?”

“No.”

“Anyway, since we founded our new city the council decided we shouldn’t attract any unwanted attention. So people are only permitted to leave with council approval.”

“And that works?”

“Not really.”

“So what’s this council you keep mentioning?”

“It’s just the surviving board members from the campus. We lost a few members in the attack including president what’s his name. You know the head of the college who was in way over his head. Anyway after he passed the board reorganized itself and renamed it the council. They even held in house elections for a new leader.”

“It’s not Nick is it? Please tell me it’s not Nick.” Tom felt a brief moment of panic at the thought of Nick or whatever that thing was taking over everyone who was left.

“What? No. Nick’s the most junior member of the council and half the age of the second youngest member. They’d never elect him to lead the city. Not that he wanted it. He’s still on the council though, but from what I hear he’s basically beating his head against a wall now.”

“You don’t know?”

“Tom, I’m a busy person, and I don’t sit on the council.”

“I thought you and Nick were… well… you know…” Tom felt like an awkward school boy trying to get the latest gossip out of people without directly saying it.

“No Tom. Stop it. You know it’s nothing like that. No we haven’t. He taught me magic and is a good friend that’s it. Weren’t you and Zach…?”

“Leah we both know Zach was a straight straight man. Innuendos aside it would never work out.”

“Wait, why are we talking about this? This has nothing to do with anything important.”

“What are you talking about, our love lives are very important to some people.”‘

“Anyway we’re here.” Tom had stopped paying attention to his surroundings a long time ago, but when he looked out the window he could see a massive grey stone wall easily forty feet high encircling what he presumed was the city. On top of the wall itself Tom could make out guard towers placed at regular intervals all around it, with tiny people walking the length of it while others remained stationary inside the towers. The city itself was situated inside of a large valley with a river that flowed under one section of wall and out another, and was probably their main source of water.

Originally they had been driving straight for town, but as they got closer the truck began to veer to the left around the wall to a small one story building almost a mile away from the city.

“Where are we going?”

“To the labs. Magical research is banned inside the city limits. Anyway Tom, welcome to the city of Volst.”

~#~#~#~

Inside a brightly lit board room Nick sat at a large oak table with about a dozen other people. One member or another sat droning on about food shortages. It looks like they’ll have to ration again. Even though Nick had already pointed out that the labs had figured out a way to increase crop yield and get perfectly edible meat. But he was shot down due to magic restrictions inside city limits.

The sitting president of the council Leland Archer sat at the head of the table listening to the meaningless discussion, that everyone knows will end in food rationing by a third if they don’t allow the mages to bolster the food stores. He was younger than most of the other members here, but had an aura of both energy and experience. His greying brown hair was neatly combed with not a single hair out of place. He was surprisingly well dressed for their current state and always managed to be clean shaven. But other than his surprising amount of charisma what unsettled Nick most was his icy blue eyes that had an intensity that he didn’t care for even on a good day.

If you gauged relative power based on seating, President Archer held the most at the head of the table. While next to him on his right side near the head, was his number two William Bray. A balding man in his fifties probably riding Archer’s coattails. And his biggest supporter. He was one of the few people left in the city that actually managed to stay over weight in spite of rationing and the physical labor they had to endure to get this far. Sometimes Nick swore he was more pig than human and he sat there patting his head with a handkerchief to remove the sweat that had gathered in the cold but stuffy room.

He looked down the line of other members and at the other end on the left side he sat as far away as possible from the head. It was probably meant to be an insult to him, but Nick frankly didn’t care about the subtleties of politics and sitting position. Here his words meant little, but  in the city itself is where he managed to do the most good.

At some point the conversation had shifted to a vote that he hadn’t been paying attention too.

“All opposed?” No one raised their hand. “Abstaining?”

Nick’s lone hand raised.

“Let it be known then that the food stores will be rationed by a third for this month.” A quiet knock on the door echoed through the room. Nick stood up, placing weight on his left hand as he stood to answer the door. He cracked it just enough to poke his head out. On the other side one of his assistants stood. She whispered what she needed to tell him and quietly walked away. Afterwards Nick walked back to his seat and eased himself into it. “Well?”

“My scouts have returned.” Nick quietly stated in a matter of fact tone.

“Do they have anything to report? Or was this another useless venture?” Archer’s underling asked in a smug tone.

“I have no idea. They just returned to the labs. I’ll find out after the meeting.”

“Please do Councilor, and let us know at the next meeting.”

“Of course President Archer.”

“Now then unless anyone has anything to bring to the table. Do I have a motion to adjourn?”

“I do.” One council member said.

“Do I have a second?”

“I second.” Nick stated. With no one opposing it the meeting disbanded with some quiet chatter between members. Nick himself slipped away before being bogged down by anyone. Not that anyone on the council ever wanted to talk to him. After The Sundering and Nick’s own disastrous attempt at leading the defense of the campus his relative position had slipped much lower than what it used to be. What was worse is opinions on mages had also diminished and many non-mages had begun to feel threatened by their mere presence. After all if one mage could do so much harm what would happen if more mages slipped and began exerting power over them. As a result Nick had to make many concessions just to keep public opinion from dropping. The least of which was moving all magical research to the outside of Volst.

“Nick, there you are. Wait up.” A man called from across the courtyard as Nick exited city hall. The Councilor stopped walking and looked over to see Mike pushing through the crowds. when he got closer Nick continued walking while Mike matched his pace.

“What’s Up?”

“Discontent.”

“What else is new? Don’t worry it’s going to get a lot worse soon.”

“Don’t tell me…”

“Yep food rationing again.”

“Did you suggest the mages increase yield and bring in more food?”

“Of course.”

“Let me guess, the standing magic ban inside city limits states magically produced goods could draw unwanted attention and shifter attacks.”

“Bingo!”

“It’s been a year since the last attack, and we built the damn city from magic.”

“Oh that’s a popular line in there. I get lots of flustered responses followed by a “no” when I bring that up.” Nick had eventually made it into the streets and was heading to his apartment. In spite of the cold weather people were still outside some mingled while others were rushing to get to work on time

After they had built the city many of the amenities the residents had grown accustomed to simply didn’t reappear in the new location. Meaning they had to be produced by other means. Luckily the mages they had to train were able to at least create indoor plumbing and electricity. It was a stretch convincing the council that the power was from the river and not the labs but he managed at least that. He wasn’t so lucky with things like textiles and food though. And some of the more complicated things they just didn’t have the technical know how to make.

Nick passed by a militiaman that patrolled the main roads. Since the move, mages had also been relieved of their policing duties. Nick still had them police themselves since an average person wouldn’t really be able to do anything if a mage really tried to break the rules, but as far as the normal citizenry were concerned mages had no authority outside of themselves. The militiaman was tall  and powerfully built. He’s was the normal sight of every other one of them big, strong, obedient, and most importantly distrustful of mages. He eyed Nick and Mike as they traveled down the road not even trying to hide it, and continued to do so until they had rounded the corner into the sight line of another militia man patrolling his section. All was an average day in Volst.

“Have you heard? The scouts came back.” Mike finally mentioned as they continued onward. Almost casually.

“Yep.”

“They’re two days early.”

“I know.”

“You know what that means.”

“They found something.”

“So why are you heading to your apartment and not the Labs?”

“Because I need to change, and whatever they found will keep for another hour.”

“Nick…”

“What?” Nick snapped, feeling tired and more agitated as this conversation continued.

“Your sleeve came undone again.” Nick looked over to his stump of a right arm. The sleeve was unbuttoned and was freely flapping in the wind. He grabbed it and began rolling it back up. “Here, let me.”

Mike grabbed a hold of the sleeve and finished redoing the button.

“Thanks… I’ll get over there soon, I just need a moment.

“Alright, I’m heading over there now. I’ll let them know you’re on your way.” Without another word, they parted ways at the entrance to Nick’s apartment in the mage district.

~#~#~#~

Once they arrived at the small building dubbed “The Labs” they drove to the west side of it through a massive steel door into what Tom assumed was a garage of some sort. After Leah had told him about what had happened, she had barely said a word to Tom until they had parked and gotten out.

“Denis, square your wolves away make sure they’re all tagged before you release them. Deon, check the truck and equipment back in and make sure its secure this time.” Leah had immediately began ordering her two subordinates.

“Yes ma’am.” They both muttered as they began doing their assigned tasks. Tom himself got out of the passenger side of the truck and began to follow Leah without being told. As they walked he tried his best to take in all of what he was seeing at once. There were many people running around, and a few flying. They looked like they were doing maintenance on vehicles or the garage itself. Tom who thought he was pretty good with faces didn’t recognize any of them.

Leah pushed past a few people in the chaotic garage, and talked to others, and even yelled at a few more from across the room. But she never stopped moving to the doors in the back. When she lead him through it was a surreal difference in environment. Everything went from noise and chaos to a quiet almost muted hallway. People were traveling through almost wordlessly. Some moved large creatures, others had equipment on carts traveling to other rooms. The hall was brightly lit with florescent  lighting and with white walls and tiling. There were also large windows lining the hallway peering into rooms as he walked by Tom snuck glances in each of them.

One had several mages standing around a strange gorilla monster. It seemed perfectly calm as they stood around it one took notes while the other looked closely at it apparently feeling rather safe with it’s arms and neck chained against the wall. Then the one writing dropped his pen, something seem to drive the animal berserk as it bashed the one in front of it into the window with a muted thud. The other hit a button on the wall and was zapped and completely docile again. The mage that was thrown simply stood up and continued examining it beast as if nothing had happened.

“Ape monsters from the old moon that Zeke had built. We stumbled on a colony of them a few months back and decided to study them.” Leah said to Tom. Usually they’re safe to be around, but occasionally they get triggered and do stuff like that. Don’t worry he’ll be fine it’s not the first time its thrown him across the room. We’ve also been searching for Zeke’s laptop at the old campus hoping it could shed some light on them since he made them apparently.” Leah mentioned to the Izzet mage without breaking stride.

“Sure.” In another room two mages stood around a small girl with short wavy blonde hair and blue eyes that helped add to an expression of perpetual boredom, as she sat calmly in a chair. They threw one spell after another around her. As they whizzed by they seemed to grow randomly in power and impact with some invisible barrier in front of them. The girl not the least afraid yawned as a fireball passed inches from her face. and exploded rather spectacularly off the shield spell. “Wow, they’re pretty good.”

“Those two? They’re D-ranked mages.”

“No way unless you raised the requirements I’d say they would be C-ranked close to B by their spells.”

“Nope scale hasn’t changed since you last saw it. They’re using pretty low level spells. You know lighting bolts and fireballs mostly. What’s making the spells so strong isn’t that casters at all.”

“Then what?” The exchange continued for a few more spells till something caught her attention and the girl suddenly stood up as the mages fired lightning bolts at one another. The spells slightly clipped her but instead of harming her they continued onward even stronger than before and breached both shields sending the two researchers researchers flying into opposite walls as fire suppression systems sprinkled water all over the room and smoke filled the area inside as well. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope.” A door in the hallway swung open and a trail of smoke filled the hall as well. Soon the same girl that was bored sitting in the other room walked out to greet them.

“Leah, you’re back early. Does that mean you found something? Is it more of us? Survivors? Were you attacked by shifters? Hi Deon.” Tom looked around for Deon who should have still been in the garage, and didn’t see him until he realized the girl had been talking to him.

“Excuse me?”

“Oh sorry you’re not Deon. You all look alike sometimes.”

“We look nothing alike. I’m not even…”

“She means humans Tom.” Leah interjected before things got hostile.”

“Isn’t she..?”

“Nope. Her and a bunch more suddenly appeared after the Sundering. They claim to not be human, and that they didn’t even exist before that event.”

“So what are they?”

“We call them Dolls. It seems kind of mean, but when we first met them they had no cloths, no knowledge of how to survive on their own, and no emotions. Nick convinced the council to let them join us saying the added numbers couldn’t hurt. They normally have to live in their own district however and have limited travel rights in the rest of the city. The Labs are the only place we let them really go unrestricted.”

“Own district? Like…”

“Segregation yes, it was a condition Nick had to agree to for security reasons to let them live with us. It’s only been a year it’ll probably loosen up soon. I mean the city is divided into four major districts anyway. Doll, Mage, Human, and Downtown the first three are the living areas and they each surround Downtown where the city council resides and commerce happens. The only thing outside of the walls are the Labs and the farms we’ve raised.” Wow your favorite fake mage has been busy hasn’t he. One year and he’s already got us hating each other. Tom ignored Weaver. 

“Doesn’t that seem a bit like racism and old timey America?”

“We’re working on it. The attack didn’t do us any favors. Nick had been balancing some delicate issues without us knowing appa…”

“Hello? I’m still here.” The girl suddenly cut in, obviously not liking being ignored. She’s going to get annoying I bet.

“Sorry, Tom this is Beatrix. Beatrix, Tom.”

“Hi.” Tom said to the girl.

“Hi.” Oh like that character from that silly game you liked so much. You know the one with the monkey tailed main character. What a dumb name.

“We stumbled across Tom in the ruins of the old campus. He had apparently just come out of the time stream. I’ve been catching him up on events since we found him.” That’s not all you found sister.

“So you were right? There are other survivors. Maybe even more of us.” Beatrix said suddenly excited. “I’m excited right? I was going for excited.”Of course not Tom here is very talented at randomly killing things. I bet he got every one of them. Hell, I had to pull his ass out of the fire or he would have off’d himself too.

“Tom’s kind of a special case.” Leah opened another door leading to a small room that might be some kind of apartment flat. It had an almost cozy feel to it with a couch against one wall a table and chairs against another. A small kitchen could be seen through a doorway. And shoved in a corner is a full size bed neatly made and looking very inviting. I bet she’s gonna lock you up here until they question you. I bet good old F’Nick is gonna try and bury you so you don’t expose him. “Anyway, Tom you can stay here until we find you some living arrangements in town. If you need to go, the bathroom is down the hall. You’re free to explore just try not to get in the way. We’ll talk more when you’re rested.”

Damn, well that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Leah closed the door behind him and Tom hopped in the bed. It felt like all he had been doing was sleeping lately. He lied back on to his pillow and starred at the ceiling. With a flick of his wrist small lights danced across it. Then soft music began to play. A song from his memory. The lights continued to dance to the melody of the song and grew brighter and darker with it. So that’s it. You’re just going to ignore me now? I thought we established I’m very annoying when you try to do that.

“Shut up Weaver.” Tom rolled over onto his side starting to feel a lull as he relaxed into sleep.

You know they can’t really control you if you don’t let them. Heck I bet you could run this town if you wanted.

“I know. Now let me sleep just for a bit.”

Fine, but mark my words this is far from over.

Prisons

It had been weeks since Joe had his only chance of escape turned into a pin cushion. As much as that would have normally amused him. He had found that dismaying given where it had landed him. Everyday he repeated the same routine he lived in his cell somewhere beneath the palace or whatever the elf equivalent was. Then by midday he was taken out to entertain the Queen and her court. Then if he pleased her he was permitted to live another day longer, and sometimes even eat. Right now Joe sat alone in his cell chained to the wall by his arms and legs. He could still move around and sleep on the mat given to him, but his freedom ended just short of his cell door. Joe looked up at his only window, a small one foot by one foot square with bars that barely allowed any light to enter. It was probably almost midday by now. He had to escape this place, his life span probably wouldn’t last more than a few weeks at this rate. Joe began to doze with nothing to do.

So this is what it looks like to be beaten.” A familiar voice muttered in his ear. Joe suddenly bolted straight up checking his surroundings for the source. He had to be imagining things.

“Who’s there?” He finally called out.

Forgotten me already have you? It hasn’t been that long since we last spoke.

Great he was going insane. That didn’t take very long.

Calm down, you’re not going crazy. Well crazier. I’m in your head.”

“In my…”

Just close your eyes.” The voice interrupted. With nothing to lose Joe did so. He suddenly felt as if his entire consciousness was falling in a deep black pit. Until finally he stopped. In the void stood a familiar figure. It was a wizened old goblin that was supposed to be doing a porcupine impersonation, not prancing around in his mind.

“What are you doing here?”

Keeping up my end of the deal. It’s been more than three days after all.

“You’re dead. Can’t you at least stay that way?”

Death is such a relative term. I like to think of it as more of a transitional period than anything else. It seems less permanent that way.”

“I hate you so much.”

That’s okay. You don’t need to like me. You just need to obey me. Now let’s get started on phase two.”

~#~#~#~

A lone elf woman sat quietly praying. The room she sat in was sparsely furnished with only a mat that she could kneel on and a small fire out in the center of the room that she currently was in front of. The room had no decoration as it would have been pointless for her blind eyes. Out a large window beyond the fire in front of her the sun was setting.

Mayael had been communing with the gods for weeks now, and she had been met with silence. Today had been no different. The human’s arrival had to mean something, but She had no idea what. Her failure to communicate with the gods unnerved her more than anything else though. With little choice she knelt before the fire one more time before giving up for the day.

She felt herself slip away from her physical body and from the constraints of what it meant to be mortal. She felt herself drift away into a stream of raw emotion and desire. It was primal and powerful, but most of all she felt the beauty and comfort of its presence. Quickly, new sensations washed over her. Fear, rage, and pain. Things she had learned plenty of during the Conflux. These things meant only one thing for the Anima. They were going to war, and that human was their harbinger of death.

~#~#~#~

I’m releasing your movement seal.” Bolgrat told Joe as he waved his hand. Immediately Joe felt as if hundreds of pounds of dead weight had been removed. He could walk without becoming winded, and even lift his arms without straining himself against some invisible force. “Now listen, we’re going to break out of here, and go down to the vaults.”

“Go fuck yourself I’m leaving.” Joe immediately willed himself to leave this place. Not entirely surprised he failed to leave his cell.

You’re not going anywhere till I remove the last seal, and I’m not doing that without you helping me.”

“Fine, let’s get this fucking over with.”

That’s the spirit! Now be a good lad and blow the door open.” Wordlessly, Joe raised his arms and pointed at the door. Almost immediately thorny vines burst from behind him and crashed into the door. It was thick, but the wooden door quickly gave way to under the assault. They were weaker than normal but they would serve. After the door crumpled he willed his vines to break his chain. They quickly did so leaving the metal rings that attached to each of his wrist and ankles but was otherwise unhindered. A pair of his jailers rushed from from a nearby room as Joe stepped through the open doorway. Spears at the ready they clearly had every intention on killing the escaped prisoner. This neither surprised or worried Joe.

Kill them.” Joe heard in his head. He was very happy to oblige after their treatment of him. As they charged the death mage waved his arm forward giving the signal for his vines to attack. They did so by firing hundreds of thorns at his assailants piercing armor and flesh with ease. As his dead captors fell to the ground in an almost comedic fashion, Joe’s vines crept closer to their master and wrapped around him somewhat gingerly. As the razor-sharp thorns almost touched his skin they simply retracted while leaving the outside ones at they were. And soon the ‘walker was encased head to toe in his vine armor. Looking more monstrous plant than man. And silently he continued to walk forward so he could be done with this place.

~#~#~#~

“You’re leaving.”

“What?” Maytee was confused. They had spent weeks making sure she wouldn’t leave. Placating her every worry and entertaining her with almost whatever she wanted. And now, suddenly that all changed and she was free to leave. That made no sense what so ever to her.

“You’re leaving.” Celest repeated. “I have orders to heal and release you as soon as possible.”

“But why? Why the sudden change?”

“The Anima got her answer from the gods. She did not like it, but she will adhere to it. You’re free to leave.”

“But what about my studies?” Maytee knew she had desperately wanted to leave since she had arrive in this plane, but now that the chance had arrived she wasn’t so sure she was ready to leave yet. Not after seeing how poorly people had fared. Celest’s expression softened as it often did before soothing her.

“You will be fine. You’re already quite advanced in the seer arts, and with practice I’m positive you will master them.” Maytee wasn’t as reassured as she had hoped she would be.

“But… how do I face everyone after such a failure?”

“They are grieving, as are you. You did not fail them that night. There simply wasn’t anything you could do. You did not run. You died remember?”

“But…”

“It is okay Maytee.” Celest grabbed her hand comfortingly. “Go back to them. Let them know you aren’t one of the fallen.”

“You’re…right….I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologize for.” With a wave of her hand and a few silent words Maytee’s injuries healed. “This is goodbye for now, but fear not. You will return to us, and when you do we will be ready to help.

“Thank you.” Without another word Maytee found the courage to leave the safety of the elves, and simply willed herself back to her plane not fully understanding Celest’s meaning.

~#~#~#~

A trail of carnage followed Joe as he had carved a path from his cell to the vaults. Bodies littered the ground. Some were mostly intact, but many more had been cleaved or decapitated. Blood covered the walls and ceiling of the hallway as he casually strolled to the next line of defense they had formed.

A guard leaped from the shadows trying to catch him unawares. He swung his sword hoping for a clean hit in the planeswalker’s midsection. Instead the blade was caught mid-swing by a thorn covered hand without its intended target even looking at him. Joe slowly turned his head to face the nuisance beside him. They guard was young looking although that meant little to him since he was an elf, but more importantly he was terrified. And then he was dead as vines shot from his back and skewered the man that had been paralyzed with fear. He continued walking forward dangling his latest victim. Terrorizing as many people as he could.

He could see many guards trembling before the blood soaked horror in front of  them, and some began to run. Others attacked blindly. Either choice didn’t make much difference to him as he dispatched those dumb enough stay in his way.

Eventually after rounding a corner, movement caught his eye as a wooden ball rolled into the hallway. It was a little smaller than his fist and intricately carved with various flowers painted in shades of blue and pink on a field of green. He picked it up with a tendril and looked closer at it. as he did so he heard a small squeak of maybe barely contained fear. He looked into the room and saw a small boy maybe 5 or 6 by appearance cowering underneath a table. The toy was probably his.

Joe walked into the room. The boy trembled in fear unable to move or speak as he stepped closer.

“Bah! Kill the boy and move on we’re wasting time!” Bolgrat ordered.

His tentacle moved closer to the boy slowly. His eyes were closed not able to face the monster before him. Then the ball gently plopped into his lap, and he could feel a soft hand muss his hair. The faint smell of urine filled the air as the boy wet himself. Then soft footsteps echoed away followed by a door shutting.

In general Joe didn’t like kids. Hated them even. But that didn’t mean he wanted to harm one. He wasn’t a monster, he was only killing when he had too.

~#~#~#~

Now after much hard fighting and many more casualties Joe stood before a magically imbued door. It was massive, but also made of wood. Unfortunately Joe soon realized that it was still as strong as steel as his vines bounced off its enchanted surface without even leaving a mark.

“Useless.” His mental warden spat out.

“Release my final seal and we’ll see who’s useless.”

“No, I have a better idea. Hold still this is probably going to hurt…a lot.” Was the dead goblin’s only reply before Joe suddenly felt his head split open, and have vast amounts of knowledge crammed in there in one go. It was almost as painful as his revival spell. Almost.

His body suddenly became sweaty and he breathed heavily as he tried to recoup from his head trying to kill him.

Then it stopped leaving only a full ache behind like a mild hangover. Other than that he didn’t feel any different, but he felt like he knew things. Magics he knew he shouldn’t know, but felt like he had always known.

“Now open it.” The goblin Auntie ordered his prisoner. Wordlessly as if the answer had been obvious all along Joe touched the surface of the door. Almost immediately it shattered with such force it would have looked like it had exploded. Blue Mohawk and all Joe walked over the newly formed rubble to see the contents of such a heavily protected room. It could quite possibly hold all the wealth of the Gilt Leaf Elves. He was sorely disappointed. Inside wasn’t gold or weapons. No precious gems or other things of value. Inside only a small wooden circlet seated atop a velvet pillow was in the room. Even the table that held both items wasn’t particularly grand.

“What the Shit man? I just killed dozens of guards for what? A piece of wood?” The planeswalker spat out even more irritated than before. “And what the fuck did you do to me?”

“Calm down we’re almost done here. That, is part of a set called the Crowns of Transference. When two people wear the crowns the one that wore theirs the longest has their consciousness transferred to the second wearer ultimately overwhelming them and taking over. I believe our great king has been staying alive for an untold number of years by transferring to the bodies of his son and continuing to rule and ultimately cheating death. As for you. I gave you all my knowledge of what do you call it? Red magic? It’s my way of saying thank you for your patience and help in this endeavor. Now be a good lad and fetch that artifact we have one more place to visit before you can be done with me. “

“Fine!” Joe roughly grabbed the magical item.

” Ah ah ah, carefully, you wouldn’t want to damage it and have me trapped here forever now would you?” Joe then more carefully absorbed the item into his body, and left the vault.

~#~#~#~

It was dark. Not just any normal type of darkness either like sitting in a dark room with the lights out, or walking through a forest at night far from any sort of civilization. This darkness was pure void. Zeke felt overwhelmed and subdued, with a rock heavily forming in his gut, as he stood up from his fall after being flung through the mystery door by Ezra.

“Wow it’s dark in here. You should consider brightening up the place. Maybe dust out a few of the cobwebs while you’re at it.” Zeke heard Ezra say as he stepped out of the doorway. He was still very old and walking with a cane, but he was strangely visible in all this nothingness around him. Zeke could easily make out all of his features as if he were in a normal room with a black background. “This part looks pretty lightly used too. Are you sure you’re as brilliant as you claim to be?”

“What? Where the hell are we?” The squirrel person asked his associate.

“We…”  Ezra began as he summoned a chair to sit in. “Are currently located in your mind. The deepest, darkest depths by the looks of it.”

Zeke was dumbfounded. Then he was horrified. Quickly followed by lots of anger peppered with more fear.

“WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?!” Zeke shouted after his face had visibly gone through each of his emotional states to the amusement of the old man training him.

“Well…” Ezra sat down in his new summoned chair and rubbed his bad leg. “I wasn’t idle for those three centuries before you found me. I’ve been building up my mental defenses ever since I was put to sleep. I couldn’t tell you what for, but it seemed important at the time. As a result, I’m most likely the only one that can actually manipulate my own mental plane. But here, you are the masterish. This place is the one place that you can exert the most control over a mentalscape.”

“I left my mind for a reason asshole. Here I’m being hunted. I almost died the last time I came out of hiding.”

“I know, but you’re safe.” The old mind mage responded unconcerned while picking his ear with his pinky. “I didn’t come unprepared. I have turned this area into a safe-zone of sorts. With me here you can do as much manipulation as you want without being detected by any of the three entities that are currently living here.”

“Three?”

“Let’s begin”

~#~#~#~

After much more fighting Joe had almost made it into the throne room where the newly returned king had locked himself inside. It was somewhat clique for his taste, but at least he didn’t do the smart thing and leave the palace. That would have been annoying. Joe found the final set of oaken doors that stood as a barrier between him and his goal. They were large and old and extremely gaudy looking. Just how most excessively rich people liked it he supposed. Joe then lightly touched the door with his palm casting one of his new spells.

As the doors burst open into splinters he could see several guards charging him with spears and even more firing arrows over them at the newly arrived opponent. And behind all of them Joe could see the King of the Gilt leaf. King Dickfuck as he’s decided was his name, was hiding behind his throne probably praying to something that this monster didn’t kill him too. Unfortunately the Queen wasn’t hiding here as well. It was a pity, Joe had hoped he would have been able to return the hospitality she had shown him.

The planeswalker continued to march forward. As the pikemen charged more of the monsters he had created on his first performance appeared behind the archers strangling them with sharp vined hands. Joe himself barely paid them any attention as small bolts of lighting shot forth from his fingers and electrocuted them all to death.

The king quickly and clumsily swung what was probably a decorative sword as Joe stepped over the charred remains of his former body guards. The attacks were wild and easy to dodge. It was rather sad and amusing that a person that had been alive as long as him had failed to learn some method of personal defense.

Eventually Joe just slapped the weapon out of the king’s hands and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him several feet off of the ground. He then removed the crown from the king’s head and placed the one he had with him on his own head and put the crown back on his captive’s head.

The moment it did pain coursed through his head has he forced himself to not be pulled in. Then suddenly it stopped. The pain was gone, and more importantly the presence in the back of his mind was gone too.

“Are you there?” Joe asked the limp form of the elf he had been holding. He dropped the body on the ground.

“Yes, I’m here. Good work. This went much smoother than expected.” The elf king responded as he stood up patted some unseen dirt off of his robes.

“So we’re done here?” Joe asked impatiently.

“Yes, here you go. Run along now.” Bolgrat responded waving his hand. Almost immediately Joe felt the weight of the last seal being removed on his powers,

“Good.” Joe immediately grabbed Bolgrat by the throat again. He began squeezing tighter and tighter slowly crushing the elf’s weak throat.

“W-wait, s-stop.” Bolgrat stammered weakly under the pressure around his throat. He then continued weakly. “We can work something out.”

“And what could you have that would cause me to stop something so incredibly satisfying?”

“I-I’ll do anything just don’t kill me.”

“Oh come on. Isn’t death just a transition period?”

“Anything!” Joe without letting up any pressure thought about the offer for a long moment.

“Okay.” Joe dropped his prisoner. The new king coughed heavily as he took in very deep breaths into his newly opened airway. The former prisoner leaned over and grabbed the king by the collar lifting him back up again. “You owe me then, and I will collect. It might not be today or tomorrow, but some day I will return and you will give me anything I demand. Am I clear?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” Joe dropped the former bogart and left him to his new kingdom. He didn’t know what he would find back on his own plain, but he was sure he wasn’t going to like it. And with a loud crack he was gone from the room, and plane.

The Fourth Sphere

This level was different from the previous spheres Alex had visited. It felt lived in. He could see smokestacks littering the area, spewing thick clouds of smoke choking the air. But there was more to it. In between the stacks, structures jutted out of the ground in grotesque angles that made them and the strange creatures that emerges almost nauseating to even look at. Alex could see flows of lava leak out of some of these structures like puss from a boil that burst. In the distance he could see figures forming defensive positions preparing to halt the Titan advance. Alex might have said they looked normal in comparison to the rest of the plane but he would have been lying. They too looked corrupt in one way or another. From the metallic appendages bent in unnatural angles with wicked looking points here and there. To the sickly black oil the seemed to weep out of certain joints. Their very appearance unnerved Alex, but if he had to fight through them, he was ready.

He gripped his weapons a little tighter preparing to charge forward with the hulking Titan machines, that were marching ahead of him. Until they suddenly stopped. Alex was confused at first until one turned around and knelt down in front of him. The hatch in its chest  opened with a hiss of released pressure, revealing Guff as the old man climbed out of his weapon, and landed in front of the boy.

“It’s time we parted ways Alex.”

“But we just got here. Where am I supposed to go?”

“Continue east. Most of the inhabitants on this level will be focused on us so you shouldn’t run into much resistance.” Alex felt and looked uncertain at Guff. He had secretly hoped that they would have escorted him all the way to the portals and saw him off. “I’m sorry. As important as your return is, out mission here and now is more important.”

“Y-you’re right.” Was all he managed to stammer out. He felt foolish for thinking that way after the old man had already done so much. He couldn’t hope to balance his life against the lives of the entire plane of Dominaria. Guff’s expression softened into a smile for a moment before he continued.

“You’ll be fine my boy. Here take this. It’ll help you.” Guff rummaged through his robes,eventually producing a small golden compass. Or at least he thought it was gold. the thing looked very old, the paint on the compass axis was worn with age, allowing Alex only to barely make it out. And the case itself was whine intact was heavily tarnished. What should have been a study piece of navigation equipment look fragile and ready to fall apart from just holding it.

“Uhh thanks?” Alex replied uncertain why such an item was given to him.

“Just follow it east, and remember, Our future isn’t set in stone. Well, I’m off to die now. You take care.” With that Guff climbed back into his Titan and began walking away with the others leaving Alex alone in this hostile plane.

~#~#~#~

“Now feel the flow of life and nature. The green mana is distinct from the others. It has a raw and primal nature to it, but not an inherently destructive one. It simply grows. Very good. Now use the energy you’ve gathered and focus it into the bowl of water gradually.”

Maytee continued to follow Celest’s instructions as she slowly released the mana she had painstakingly gathered into the bowl of water placed in her lap. Maytee sat relatively still so not to disturb the contents of the basin. Once she finished releasing the energy into the bowl, nothing happened. At first she thought she had messed something up again. She had succeeded before, but her failures were still up there as well.

The a ripple appeared in the bowl. From the exact center. Maytee grew excited and watched as second ripple appeared. Then a third. Before long images flickered onto the surface of the water until finally it solidified into a single image. That’s when her heart sank again.

Buildings were burnt out, trees were charred stumps, and blackened pieces of bone were scattered around. She could see all of this and no sign of life. Just death and emptiness. Eventually she lost her concentration and the image faded away.

“Dammit.” Maytee muttered quietly more to herself than anything else.

“Who did you search for this time?”

“It doesn’t matter they’re dead too.”

“Just because you didn’t see them doesn’t mean they are dead.” Celest said comfortingly to her charge.

“No, but you said so yourself, if they died it will show me where their body is. I keep getting images of the campus. Multiple people and no sign of life.”

“True, but you’ve found others.”

“Some, but not many.”

“It’s a start. When you get better at the seer arts we’ll know for sure.”

“We’ll see.” Maytee muttered under her breathe. She placed the bowl on the table next to her bed, and curled up to go back to sleep. She was done for the day. Darkness and death is all she saw for most of her friends.

~#~#~#~

Alex hid in the shadows next to one of the structures on this level. He quietly watched as a patrol of phyrexian soldiers ran past him, completely unaware of the planeswalker’s presence. He took a deep breath, and counted to ten before even bothering to stand. He pulled out the old compass Gruff had given him and checked to make sure he was still going east.

“For the fifth time you’re still going in the right direction.” Alex jumped up from the voice that suddenly started talking to him from behind. ALex turned to see Syeahrs hanging upside down off of a ledge behind him with the same red and black mask as always.

“Geez Syearhs you scared me. How the hell do you keep finding me?” He whispered agitatedly.

“Magic.” Was her only response. “This is just me, but if I were you I’d worry more about those incoming soldiers than how I found you.”

“What?” Alex turned his head to follow her pointed finger. He had apparently alerted a second patrol that had happened to be passing through as well. “Oh joy.”

“This is probably where you ru… Hey! Wait up!” Before Syearhs even finished her sentence Alex was running away trying to out maneuver the soldiers that began to chase him. Spells and arrows flew past Alex just barely missing him as he bobbed and weaved trying to lose his pursuers. The spells also always seemed to miss the harlequin as she sprinted alongside him. “You’re going the wrong way!”

“No I’m not look the compass says…” Alex opened the compass showing the compass needle pointing due south. The complete wrong direction. “Shit.”

“Turn left now!” Alex suddenly turned down an alley without a thought. “Look out more above you!”

Syeahrs yelled to Alex as strange vaguely human creature skittered along the roof tops after him. Syeahrs herself was running alongside him not concerned for the danger she was in. She simply continued to run next to the young mage and warn him as new threats arose, which they continuously were.

Alex jumped into the air magically aided landing on a roof top across the alley from the skittering thing that pursued him. He ducked as a it spit acid at him narrowly missing his head. The delay from his need to dodge wasn’t much, but it gave the vile creature enough time to jump over to him and try to clamp down with its unnaturally widened jaw and sharp fangs. As it attempted to bite him Alex batted it away with his newly formed racket into the phyrexian soldiers below. With a sickening crunching noise it smashed into multiples of them crushing one or two, but slowing down many more.

“That was close.”Alex commented casually as he jumped into another alley running parallel to the one he was in before.

“Are you crazy? Why aren’t you casting magic?”

“I need to conserve energy for the return trip. Phyrexian portals take a massive amount of energy to work, and with the theoretical modifications Guff gave me, it’ll take that much more. If I waste it all fighting I’ll never get out of here and we both know I don’t get a second chance at this.”

“Come on at least cast an invisibility spell or something.” The harlequin pleaded as the crossed the threshold into a tunnel.

“Can’t, it might cost to much to maintain. I shouldn’t even have summoned my racket, but it’s the lowest level spell I have to defend myself with.” A partially mechanical person rounded a corner at a nearby junction ahead of them with sword drawn. It swung side ways holding the hilt in both hands hoping to lop Alex’s head off before he could react. Unfortunately for him the boy’s reflexes are far better than the average person and slide right under the blade, and without stopping hacked both its legs off. An agonizing howl of pain echoed throughout the tunnels attracting even more pursuers . “Well so much for the stealth option.”

Soon large metal gates began to close off paths leading him deeper into the maze of tunnels. Alex found himself dodging attackers As fewer and fewer paths appeared. Two heavily armored soldiers chased him as he ran full speed trying to get through the last passage before the gate closed. Anxiety continued to build in him as it finally closed with him still dozens of feet short. With no where left to run Alex began to turn to face his enemies and fight his way back.

“Keep running forward.”

“What?”

“Do it!” Syeahrs yelled at him as she gave him a push from behind propelling him forward. Every time he looked back she pushed him again. He was running full speed towards solid steel and his companion wouldn’t let him stop.

“Stop Syeahrs, I’m gonna…” Without even a thought Alex ran straight through the closed door. Seconds later he could hear several thuds from his would be captors as they collided with the door. Alex himself slowed to a halt, and with hands on knees he was hunched over winded. His calves and lungs were burning as he tried to catch his breath after such an extended sprint. “What…What was that? Syeahrs?”

Alex after a moment of no reply looked around. The acrobat was no where to be seen, but that wasn’t the surprising part. Inside Hundreds of massive vats sat in rows filling the room. People walked along catwalks checking the black and shinny sludge inside. He edged closer to one of the vats and peered through the class hoping to see something inside. He wasn’t disappointed as something smacked into the side of the container. It looked human, but was completely hairless and androgynous. Small nutrients tubes jutted out of its back and one more went into its mouth down its throat.

Feeling nervous being in the vat facility Alex backed away, and began sneaking deeper inside hoping to find an exit. Once gone the eyes of the Newt opened and the tank began to flush sending it deeper into the facility. Dozens more did the same. Alex could only hope he’d never have to see them again.

~#~#~#~

“Well as nice as this has been bye.” Said Joe. He sat there for a second and concentrated very hard, willing himself to go back to his home plane. Nothing happened. He then cast a spell to launch thorny vines to cut his restraints which also failed. He then tried to cast multiple other spells trying about anything to escape his bonds.

“Ah, I see we’re doing this the hard way then.”

“Let me go asshole!” Joe spat out.

“Not yet I’m afraid. You see you’re something of a novelty here on our little plane. You would fetch a very nice price to the elves. They see anything that’s not there image as an eye sore, but you are a rarity that would amuse them. All the more with the fact that you seem to have some level of control over the forces of life and death.” Bolgrat walked over to a stool, and sat down on it. He stared down at the kneeling tied up form of Joe. “I’m not unsympathetic though. I know all to well that the elves are cruel masters to have. So let me make a deal with you.”

“Fuck you.”

“You will notice that you have three new tattoos on your body. One restrains you, one limits your power, and a third seals it. After I have presented you to the elves I will remove the the one that seals your power. You can then do some tricks that will no doubt amuse and delight our wonderful overlords who seek to mold our world in there glorious image. After your performance they will present me with gifts they deem appropriate. When they take you as their new pet I will release the next seal that restrains you. Now your first instinct will be to escape, and as hilarious as it would be to watch you fail miserably, I would advise against it. Unless you want them to place a new seal on you, or kill you I suppose.”

“I’m waiting for the part where this is a deal and not selling me as a slave.”

“I’m getting to that. Now, if you behave, and do as they ask for three days, I will teach you a bit about our arts. From a distance of course. When you finish learning everything I can teach you, I will undo your final seal and you may leave under your own power.”

“You’re shitting me right? This is your deal? Make me a slave so you can get rich, and free me later? You’re a special kind of stupid aren’t you. I’m going to kill you when I get out.”

“I very much doubt that. I control your ability to free yourself. Help me and I’ll help you. Besides it doesn’t take a genius to know you shouldn’t threaten the only person that can help you. Now do we have a deal?”

“Fuck you.” Joe emphasized each word never breaking eye contact with his goblin jailor.

“Not that you have a choice in the matter. Now, on we go. We have a meeting to attend.”

~#~#~#~

Alex had made it to the surface again after killing four armed guards. That had been protecting some doorway. They didn’t stand much of a chance against him. Although the last guard did almost wing him, but that’s a story for another time.

The boy mage hopped onto a small ledge that over looked the marshaling grounds of the phyrexian invasion force. They milled about in an orderly fashion. Alex could see them converging around great portals ready to be activated for their final march into Dominaria, and even further past them he could see hundreds of airships ready to be launched as well.

“Oh that’s neat you’ve got a pick of the litter. All you have to do is get past a few thousand soldiers.” Syeahrs whispered over his shoulder looking down with him. Unsurprised this time he continued to look onward planning his route.

“Not really just watch.” Syeahrs looked down at the field as most of the soldiers suddenly turned from the portals and ships and headed west presumably towards some more threatening force deeper inside their sphere.

“Oh, well that simplifies things. So tell me Alex. Will it be the ship or the portal?”

“You’ll see.” Without another word Alex slid down a shallower incline off the side of the cliff, and snuck in closer with his jingling companion not far behind. Instead of  a few thousand guards he now only had to deal with a few hundred or so scattered throughout the grounds guarding the valuable technology before him.

He was all but invisible as he used the perpetual shadow of the plane to sneak past many of the guards. Soon finding himself just next to a portal. Just as he edged past the last guard for a while he hears a crashing noise. Turning around he could see a pile of rubble next to Syeahrs. After that noise there was no way they didn’t hear that.

“Oopsy, better run.” She uttered before disappearing from sight in front of him.

“That bitch.”Alex spat out before making a break for it towards the portal-ships. He heard several guards yelling as he ran. If they didn’t know he was there they certainly did now.

~#~#~#~

It had been a long few days as Joe was marched into the grand audience hall of the Gilt Leaf Elves. The chains around his neck, wrists, and ankles all chaffed as he was prodded by a spear into one corner of the room by his goblin captors. Bolgrat, the wizened old boggart was dressed in his finest cloths for the elves, but by goblin standards that wasn’t saying much. He took a deep almost groveling bow before what he presumed was the Queen of the Gilt Leaf. Queen What’s Her Tits Joe decided was her name since he really didn’t know or care who she was. She sat on a raise wooden throne that looked as it grew into that shape, with a purple velvet pillow as a cushion. The Queen herself was dressed in lavish green robes made from probably silk and embroidered with golden threads depicting the shapes of various wild life such as deer and wolves. Her hair was almost as golden as the thread in her dress which hung loosely to almost shoulder length behind her horns.

“My most beneficent Queen. I Bolgrat of the Sky Tosser Warren have come to offer you a gift.” Bolgrat kept his weak groveling posture looking as pathetic as possible. He probably hoped that doing so would make it less likely they kill him. The Queen leaned forward whispering into the ear of another lavishly dressed elf who stood next to her.

“Show us.” He said projecting across the room. Calmly but with a small tinge of contempt that leaked through in his voice. Bolgrat motioned for Joe to step forward. His immediate reaction would have been to ignore the order, but sharp spears proved to be more persuasive as he stepped to the front.

“He is a human from another plane. A planeswalker with the power of life and death. I have suppressed his power for you, but with your permission I will release some of it for your entertainment.” The Queen sat there for a moment sizing Joe up. He was wiry by human standards, but still as thin as the elves around him. His blue Mohawk looked like it confused and disgusted her, and even more so with his tattoos.  From what Joe could remember he was probably the epitome of everything they hated, and was likely going to die from that stupid goblins plan.

The queen then after a moment of awkward silence that seemed to draw out forever, she leaned over again to the man next to her, and whispered into his ear. He stood straighter before speaking again.

“It would please her Highness greatly to see this human perform. Make it quick.”

“Of course.” Bolgrat gave another pathetic bow before casting a small incantation. Joe seethed as he felt the searing pain of one of his seals being removed. As if someone had taken a blowtorch to that part of his flesh. A few seconds ticked by and eventually the pain stopped. The old goblin leader walked over cane in hand as whispered into his ear. “Now remember all our lives depend on your performance. So make it good.”

The Auntie whacked him with his cane till Joe found the will to stand up. He thought quietly for a moment not sure what he could do beyond obey. The remaining seals restricted his movement to what that bastard would allow, and he could feel his power was only a trickle of what it used to be. So all he could do is hope Bolgrat would be true to his word. He hated this plan already.

Joe took another step forward. Space had been made for him as the crowd retreated to a distance they thought was safe. He thought about a spell he could use he probably needed something flashy. He began casting even a trickle would be enough to do something. He felt the flow of green mana leave his finger tips. Thorny vines began to sprout from the floor around him. They were smaller and weaker than what he was used to, but they would do. He was positive he was going to get a reaction out of the next part.

The vines shot out into the crowd ignoring the elves and strangled a pair of his goblin captors. They struggled momentarily until an audible snap was heard. Their bodies then dangled limply in the air. He had actually been aiming for Bolgrat for one of them, but the bastard was faster than he thought. Their were terrified shrieks from several people in the crowd, and several guards began to close in around Joe with spears and swords drawn. And then music began to play.

A soft melody, echoed throughout the room. The bystanders had a look of confusion as there were no musicians previously in the room to play the alien song. Eyes darted left and right and soon the onlookers parted a second time. amongst them in the confusion more thorny vines had sprouted. These though were more complex and seemed to bend into the shape of people. They seemed to be playing thorny instruments, and then Joe released the black mana he had stored.

The vines dropped the bodies, and they landed on their feet. They locked hands with one another, and quietly began to dance to the music. They were both clearly dead as one had its head dangling from left to right as it moved and the other had its eyes dangling from its sockets, But both moved elegantly regardless.

The soldiers moved in closer none the less. Preparing to kill the nearly defenseless mage. Until the Queen happily clapped her hands as the song ended. Then soon other in the crowd clapped and cheered at the macabre performance. Then she raised her hand, and the crowd grew quiet once again. She leaned over and quietly whispered into her speaker’s ear. He stood up a little straighter again.

“The Queen is very pleased by your gift’s performance, and will gladly accept. She wishes to bestow upon you a suitable reward for your troubles.”

“Thank you your Majesty.” Bolgrat responded while rubbing his hands together. The Queen then raised her hand and let it down waving forward signaling something. Archers stood up in the balconies above and loosed several arrows into the crowd, and kept firing until every goblin was dead leaving only Bolgrat standing. “Your Majesty…. I d-dont understand. I thought you were rewarding us.”

Queen bitch tits stood up. Contempt ever present in her eyes. She looked at him up and down.

“I am. I’m rewarding you with the end of your hideous existence.” Dozens of arrow hit the old goblin, until he crumpled over into a twitching dead heap.

“Shit.” Was all Joe got to mutter before the butt of a spear knocked him unconscious.

~#~#~#~

Alex jumped over a dead phyrexian as his racket took its head off. His attempt at stealth had turned into him making a run for it towards the ship hoping he had enough time to reprogram it. So far it was not going so well. Hundreds of soldiers where converging on his position as he climbed the nearest ship. Only two crew members were currently on board as kicked one in the groin and threw his racket into he head of the other. One collapsed with a racket in his head. The other looked at Alex confused before swinging his axe at him. Alex jumped to the side and recalled his own weapon. It flew into he air and impaled the remaining defender.

Without missing a beat the boy ‘walker began searching the deck of the ship for his prize. The powerstone that activated the portal. He began working almost immediately as warriors and horrors drew closer. Hundreds of them. He might have been able to fight them for a time, but eventually he would fail. He had to get this portal activated soon if he hoped to survive.

The first few phyrexians climbed onto the deck with him. They charged without even a second thought. Alex wasn’t even close to done. He knew if he stopped now he would never be able to return. He also knew if he did’t fight them, he was dead. Panic began to leak through as he realized he was going to die here regardless of what he did, and it was Syeahrs’ fault. His hands shook as he worked faster trying to supress the fear building up inside of him. He dropped the compass Guff had given him. It rolled on the ground away from him. Alex was too afraid to care. The first soldier raised his sword and brought it down on Alex.

The compass flashed with a blinding light. Its aura suddenly ebbing raw power. It startled Alex’s assailant as it took several steps back. Then out of nowhere a person appeared. His red hair and pale complexion familiar to Alex. The guy stumbled a moment as his feet hit the ground, but caught himself before falling.

“Jason?” The guy looked over at him probably about as confused as he was.

“Alex?”

“Look out!” Alex yelled as the warrior resumed his attack. His sword came down straight for Jason’s neck. Then for no reason it pinged off of some invisible force. Not missing a beat Jason summoned his iconic samurai spell armor and flung a golden disk made of energy effectively cutting his attacker in half at the torso and beheading the other standing behind him.

“Where are we…?”

“No time. cover me and the ship while I get us home.”

“Fine.” Jason cast dozens of spells in quick succession as more enemies arrived to harm them. They soon realized they couldn’t get close to the ship as some invisible force stopped their advance. When some attacked it they were flung back several hundred feet. Then they cast spells that were absorbed into the barrier making it grow. “Anytime now.”

“Almost done…there finished.” The ship suddenly hummed to life and began floating. Alex took the helm and steered the flying ship upward away from harm.

“Do you know how to flew this thing?” Jason called out as he grabbed the rail for support.

“Not a clue.” Alex called back before channeling all of his remaining power into the powerstone opening a blue swirling portal. He drove through without even giving it a second thought. All Alex found was darkness.

Invading Phyrexia

They stood silently for a moment as Alex tried to comprehend how she had found him. He could accept that she would also be able to go through the doors to the same time and location assuming they were set locations, but this library is miles long with thousands of rooms in a weaving maze impossible to really know unless you were Commodore Guff. Hell he was even afraid to wander to far from the map room without the old man for this very reason.

“How did you find me?” Alex suddenly blurted out without thinking. The harlequin gave a small laugh in amusement. She seemed utterly unconcerned by this as she continued.

“Don’t worry so much. I’m only going to be here for a minute before your friend the commodore walks in.”

“Don’t worry so much? You shouldn’t be here.”

“Oh Alex, you should know by now that you can’t hide from me.”

“Why did you send me here? I thought I was free once I beat you.” Alex could only imagine a huge smug grin right before the Unbound Victor spoke again.

“And you are. You left via the door, which I allowed. I never said I would leave forever. Besides you’re taking to long to return. It’s also my job to motivate you to return to your correct time and plane after a while.”

“What do you mean motivate?”

“Well normally that’s just a polite way of saying attack, but I don’t think you need that. I’m just here to tell you that you’re on a deadline. Ta-ta for now.” With little warning his jester associate suddenly vanished into a poof of smoke. Which conveniently disappeared by the time the elderly commodore walked in.

“Come with me, it’s time.”

~#~#~#~

“No, he can’t come.”

“Oh he will.” The commodore replied.

“No, there are only nine titans. Only the nine of us will enter.”

“He isn’t going to be a Titan he isn’t even going to travel with us long. His objective is much earlier than ours.”

“It doesn’t matter he’s a liability. And it’s suicide to go in there without a Titan.”

“I think the Phyrexians will have bigger problems than one lowly Mage.”

“He’s also the weakest planeswalker I’ve ever met. He wouldn’t make it past the first level.”

“He will, I have faith in him.”

“No Guff, this is my mission I can’t have him jeopardizing it, and that’s final.”

“Then I’n afraid I won’t be going either Urza. Either he comes along or I’m not going.” The room got quiet with Guff’s declaration. All eyes had fallen on the exchange. It was minutes before the final push of the Phyrexians. Every Titan had assembled for this last ditch effort to halt their advance.

“Fine Guff, you win. He’s your responsibility.”

“I thought you’d see reason.” Guff said as he clapped his hands together. “Now, I believe we have a plane to invade.”

~#~#~#~

It was hell. That’s all that Alex could think of to describe Phyrexia. It had only been a few minutes since they all had ‘walked to the plane, and he had already almost died four times.

The smoke had made it impossible to breath without a respirator, and the oil rain had made him almost blind. But he had come to far to turn back now. The young mage had thought as he trudged through the fake metallic jungle. Various mockeries of life stalked them as he and the titans walked onward.

Nothing seemed brave enough to attack them as they continued forward unimpeded. That’s what Alex had thought until an ear splitting shriek echoed through the jungle landscape, and then all hell broke lose.

First, dragon-like machines came bursting through the tree line. Some were flying others running. The entire plane seemed to attack them at one time.

The Titan holding Guff first received a deep gouge from one of the draconic monstrosities as he intercepted it from harming Alex himself. They grappled briefly before the thing simply dissolved in his hands.

Alex looked around and realized all the other Titans had obliterated hundreds of these things with almost no effort at all. These already god-like mages were made even more powerful by Urza’s creations. This sight alone made Alex’s own magical achievements seem insignificant by comparison. But the young ‘walker didn’t have time to feel minuscule. He could already see a glimpse of another threat through the haze and oil around him. Taking as deep of a breath as his mask would allow Alex prepared himself for a long fight before summoning his rackets.

~#~#~#~

It had been weeks since Quiet Joe had arrived at this plane, or at least he thought it had been weeks. He wasn’t quite sure since he had been shifting in and out of consciousness. All he really knew was that he wasn’t on the campus anymore.

Opening his eyes for the first time had been a challenge, as he fought the urge to sleep some more. The world around him was a blur and darkness. With eyes shifting in and out of focus Joe tried to make out the shapes in his surroundings. Some might have been rocks or piles of something, he really couldn’t tell. The wiry built mage shifted his gaze till he saw what looked like a face staring at him, mere inches from his own face.

“Autnie he’s awake!” It screamed rather excitedly. Joe jerked back startled by the turn of events immediately summoning thorny vines that strangled the creature. The thing couldn’t have been more than three feet tall. Its frame so small, with little effort the creature was dangling in the air, and flailing around for several seconds choking. Joe still in a daze stood up not really thinking.

That turned out to be a mistake as he slammed his head into the ceiling of the cave they were in, knocking himself out. He could vaguely hear a small voice cough.

“Never mind Auntie, he hit his head again.” The thing had wheezed out before he lost consciousness again.

~#~#~#~

The second sphere didn’t seem any less hostile than the first. Scraps and ruins from the first sphere littered the area, from half broken trees to the carcasses of the dead dragon-like monsters impaled on pipes sticking out from the ceiling of the sphere. A maze of smokestacks filled the ground level letting out massive amounts of heat and smoke further choking the air around them, but also giving off the only source of light.

More than once Alex almost caught himself on fire from the oil that permeated his clothing. And even with his respirator he found himself barely able to breathe with all the smoke. Everything about this place gave an air of oppression that weighed down upon Alex making him more nervous. His eyes darted around in every direction left, right, up, and down. The haze of everything made it nearly impossible to see anything beyond the stacks. More than once Alex found himself questioning if they were going the right way, but then again he didn’t even know which way was right to begin with.

“I guess I’ll find out eventually.”Alex muttered to himself amidst the noise of fire and movement.

~#~#~#~

Joe jerked himself awake suddenly as the ice cold water splashed his face. The normally quiet ‘walker found himself thrashing about and yelling various obscenities as he tried to locate the source of his attacker.

Eventually he recovered from his disorientated state and saw two creatures standing a few feet away, one holding the bucket that undoubtedly had water in it at one point in time. The one holding the bucket was very short no more than three feet tall with a brownish-green color to its skin and a strangely pointed head. The other goblin by contrast was older and rather plump looking as it leaned on a walking stick to support its weight. It was a brown color but almost grey with how dull it looked in the light. He stood a full head over the younger monster, and while that one looked rather dumb and excitable, this older one had a look of intelligence that came with experience.

“Oh good you’re awake.” The older one said to Joe.

“What the fuck man?” Was Joe’s immediate response, followed by him jerking against the restraints he notices for the first time. This, while not really a problem, only served to annoy him more.

“Sorry about that. You tried to kill Igot here the last time you woke up. They are just a precaution. If you promise to behave we’ll remove them.

“Fuck you man. Where the fuck am I?”

“You are in the Mudrumble Bog in the plane of Lowyn planeswalker.”

“What?”

“What do you mean what?”

“I’m not a…”

“Planeswalker? Then how do you explain being on a plane that has no native humans?”

“I…” Joe was speechless. He had no idea how to respond to the news. He didn’t even know how he had gotten here.

“What is the last thing you remember?”

“I was in a battle. Monsters had started to attack from all sides on my home. And then…”

“And then what?”

“I found a friend of mine. He was dead from a knife wound so I attempted a spell to revive him. And I died in the process.” Joe slumped down thinking about what had happened. He supposed he was thrilled by the thought that he also had been a planeswalker, but it seemed somewhat diminished by the way events had unfolded.

Silence filled the dimly lit room as Joe took in more of his surroundings  not wanting to deal with what he had just remembered. The old creature gave him that moment before continuing.

“You’ve been unconscious for sometime. Likely what ever battle you were in has passed for better or for worse.”

“Who are you?” Joe finally thought to ask.

“I am Bolgrat, Auntie of the Sky Tosser Warren. Welcome.”

~#~#~#~

Alex was bathed in darkness. It permeated everything and filled everything. Light was simply engulfed by the darkness. This of course made Alex’s attempt to see in the third sphere that much harder as he defied gravity running on a dizzying network of pipes that filled everywhere.To the point where Alex had found it difficult to move. He had no doubt that the titans were even worse off, trying to maneuver those gigantic machines in such tight spaces. More than once Alex had become separated from the group as a distortion seemed to mislead him. He’d travel down paths that went no where only to backtrack into places that led nowhere.

One time he had marked a spot and ran back into it in four different stretches that shouldn’t have overlapped it. He could have attributed it to the combination of darkness, nerves, and the dizzying omnidirectional maze, but the young ‘walker knew it wasn’t just that. He could feel the distortion that warped the very reality around him.

And right when he was on the verge of panicking, Alex squeezed through one last opening and managed to hear the familiar heavy thunk of the titan’s footsteps. He let out a sigh of relief as he felt his way back to the group. Most seemed unconcerned by his absence or not to even have noticed. Not that he could hear their conversations inside the titans.

But soon he could see their objective in the distance. A faintly glowing portal in the distance that would allow them to travel to the lower planes. One more level. Alex thought to himself as his excitement and anxiety grew. One more and he could be done with this horrible plane. He hoped that was the case anyway.

Insight

It was dark, Jason thought as he walked down a long winding path with the Commodore leading the way. He had cast a simple spell that teleported them to this place. Guff had said he would show him what the author had said. That had been an hour ago. Between the endless traveling and Guff’s in-depth explanation of how time worked and that “This might not even be from your future” Jason found his patience wearing thin.

“How much further?” Jason asked his compatriot. The old man to his credit hadn’t seemed the least bit agitated by the interruption.

“Not much further. Now one last thing. Nothing you see is real. You cannot in anyway change what you see. Remember that. It will save you much grief. BUT when you ignore that and cause yourself unnecessary pain I’ll be here to snap you out of it.”

“Okay.” It was strange advice, but Jason didn’t really care to argue it he just wanted to know who the author was.

“Well then.” With a wave of his hand a heavy wooden door with a ring shaped handle appeared in front of the two planeswalkers. “Right this way.”

He motioned for Jason to step forward and with only a hint of hesitation he did so and opened the door to see what was on the other side.

~#~#~#~

“When can I leave?” Maytee asked to woman sitting in front of her.

“Soon, when you’re better.” Was the reply she received as always. She had narrowly escaped death in the battle for the campus. Her spark had awoken as an axe was about to crush her sternum. It had turned a lethal blow, into a cripplingly painful blow that had cracked several ribs and broken her ankle when she landed wherever she was currently located. As a result she had been bedridden for days now with nothing to do except talk to the elf woman in front of her.

When she had asked her name, the lady had kindly given it to her but it had be so difficult for Maytee to pronounce that they had settled on Celest only a portion of her full name but enough. Celest said she was part of the Cylian elves of Naya. Maytee wished she knew more about the multiverse right now.

“You know you can’t really keep me here. I’m a planeswalker meaning I could leave this plane if existence at anytime.” Celest gave her another kind smile before responding.

“You could leave, but where would you go? You have trouble breathing and you can’t walk on your own. What would you even do once you got back to your campus?”

“Sit in a bed and be bored as my responsibilities get shifted onto someone else. Probably Nick now that I think about it. And Chris my boyfriend.”

“So you would be doing exactly what you are doing right now?”

“Yes.”

“Then why bother? Are we not taking good care of you in-spite of your sudden appearance in our home?” That was an understatement according to some of the others she had actually come crashing down through the ceiling while the Anima was communing with their gods. To there credit no one seemed overly alarmed by her entry and had patched her up without a second thought. Celest had been her companion and caregiver ever since.

“It’s not that. I’m worried about everyone. We had a major attack against us, and I was injured early in the battle. I just want to know everyone is okay.”

“I see. Well I can’t stop you even if I advise against it, but perhaps we can come to a solution.”

“What you’re going to finally heal me?”

“No.”

“Why Not?”

“Because if our healers did so you would leave without a second thought. Mayael our leader and current Anima was communing with the gods asking for guidance. Instead they gave us you.”

“I could just have the best timing ever.” Maytee replied half-jokingly. Celest in turn gave Maytee a stern look.

“Mayael has been communing with the gods ever since, and hasn’t spoken one word about you. So until she does we need you here.”

“I can’t stay here forever.”

“We don’t expect you too. That’s why I’d like to teach you some of the seer arts and the ways of green aligned magic. You would be able check on the well being of your friends and have something to do. While we could have you here for a while longer.”

“And I’d be able to leave as soon as you guys figure out why I walked here at this particular time?”

“Yes, you’re our guest not our prisoner.”

“When can we get started then?”

“Right now.”

~#~#~#~

“Try it again.”

“I am dammit!”

“No you’re not your just running around.”

“Well I wouldn’t have to run if you didn’t keep sending trees after me!” Zeke yelled at Ezra. They had been practicing mind magic inside Ezra’s head ever since he had agreed to help him. That was months ago. Over the course of that time they had both come to the conclusion that Zeke was terrible at blue magic. And to make matters worse as a bio-mage he had nothing physical to manipulate making him even more useless than when he was on that damn moon of his.

Another branch lashed out at him hitting him square in the chest knocking him on his back and winding him. Zeke then spent the next few seconds hopelessly trying to suck in air before finally being able to breath again. Ezra helped him up and patted him on the back to help clear his lungs. All completely pointless gestures since none of this was real.

“This isn’t working.” The old man finally responded seriously.

“You think?!” Zeke responded angrily as he flailed about. “I told you when we began that I’m no good with blue magic. Why would that change now?”

Ezra stepped back from the squirrel-person’s rather animated display of anger and frustration.

“Because I doubt you could win a battle in your mind without blue magic. Your biggest weakness is literally your only hope of escaping your current predicament. But if you don’t think you need my help by all means leave. You are only a distraction for me anyway.” The bio-mage scowled hard at his mental counterpart. They both knew full well that he needed Ezra’s help. By pointing out his option to leave was just a way to rub it in. And to make matters more irritating they only thing Zeke even knows about Ezra is his name and the fact that he’s been asleep for three hundred years. Other than that, nothing.

“Something has to change we’re not getting anywhere this way. I can’t manipulate your mental world.”

“Hmm, you might be right you should have been able to do something by now.” With a wave of his hand a set on oak double doors appeared in front of the two ‘walkers. They were big and sturdy looking with simple ring shaped handles to pull open.

“What’s that?”

“Doors.”

“I got that, where do they lead?” Zeke replied irritatedly.

“To a change in you’re training process.”

“That’s not where.”

“No, but trust me its better you don’t know till we get there.”

“Fine.” Ezra opened the doors to reveal a black void on the other side. Before Zeke even had time to worry about what that was, the ground picked him up and flung him through the doorway. Ezra himself stood at the threshold nervous for a moment. Then finally with a deep breath to calm himself he stepped through to follow his furry friend.

~#~#~#~

The light was blinding at first. The sun was hot and the air fresh. Jason could already feel sweat form on his back as his eyes adjusted to his surroundings. They were standing in a large hilly plain the seemed to stretch out for miles. All seemed quiet at first.

Then the ground began to rumble beneath his feet. Soon the rumbling turned to a roar as armies of armored men charged and clashed with one another. The sound of steel ringing off of steel, men yelling in rage,and others in pain as they died flooded Jason’s ears. The noise was deafening and soon spells began to fly around everywhere. Some exploded others cut down swathes of men. Shadows enveloped even more and soon scores of warriors died on both sides.

Day 9 of the war.

I don’t know how they did it but they raised armies large enough to challenge me in the field. What should have been an easy victory with my enemies so divided has turned into a meat-grinder as we fight for every inch of land.

“What’s that voice? Why can I hear it so vividly?” Jason soon found himself asking as he looked around. The battle around him was quickly escalating as massive monsters the size of small buildings crashed through the battlefield. Some attacked the smaller combatants, while others ignored the annoyances beneath them and attacked the other monsters.

And still while this happened more people entered the fray. All of this was dizzying to Jason as he tried to follow all of the battle at once. Until one thing caught his attention, then the war around him seemed to cease to be. It began with a sickly black fog that rolled in sucking the strength out if all who touched it. Then the inevitable appearance of Fallor happened. He seemed covered in darkness as he killed scores of people with a flick of his wrist. A single knight tried to attack him, but as he swung his axe Fallor dodged without looking and pointed a finger at him. Soon this fully armored man seemed to wither away and die as his skeleton still clad in his armor collapse into pieces on the ground.

The diviner seemed rather pleased with himself as he looked at his latest work with pride. Then in an instant he seemed to snap back into reality as firey chains attempted to grab him. As Jason followed them to their source, he wasn’t surprised to find Tom clad in his iconic Izzet cloak.

In theory the battle was going to be a cake walk as I made my enemies bleed more without the support of their precious planeswalkers. Who were supposed to be busy dealing with other threats. Threats that would always arise dragging them away till it was too late. Tom never should have been there. He was supposed to be hunting Lee…the shadow that he was.

Fallor slowly levitated higher above the battle to the same height as Tom. Without a word Fallor flew at him full speed dodging one fire chain after another. Until he was almost upon the Izzet walker. Then Tom pointed his left hand towards Fallor. A bracelet made of our energy formed around his wrist.

“Data Drain!” Tom screamed as the wings opened up and streams of data shot forth. Fallor teleported out of the way, but they continued to track him as he reappeared in the distance. This continued for several minutes as the three beams created an ever growing maze of code that no one really understood. Not much time had passed before the strands hit Fallor, immediately draining the mana inside him. The drain was so violent, white light exuded from his mouth and eyes eventually causing him to burst into flames. Leaving nothing behind but a few pieces of ash.

Not satisfied with that display Tom fired several wooden spears from his newly transformed hand off in another direction. They flew fast and would have been deadly if Fallor hadn’t batted them away with a shadowy tendril. Both ‘walkers maintained eye contact as chaos ensued around them, and eventually the hot and sunny day became overcast followed by heavy rain in an instant.

They both became drenched as water seeped into their clothes. Neither seemed to care as the expected water serpents lashed out towards Fallor as a harbinger of Nick’s arrival. A deadly battle of tendrils and serpents ensued as both forces fought each other. It had become almost impossible to track everything as more and more of their chosen weapons filled the air. Not wanting to be out done, Tom also rushed in firing wooden spears from one hand and a web of razor sharp silver chains from the other. With less and less room to maneuver Fallor plunged into the battlefield braving sword and claw as Tom’s and Nick’s spells caught up with him.

Finally, one such spell did and a water serpent knocked him to the ground. Fallor wheezed in exhaustion as he lied on the blood stained ground. Tom loomed over him triumphantly.

“Is this where you declare your victory Tom?” Fallor yelled to the victorious planeswalker.

“No Chris, that is a terrible cliché that always ends badly for the person that does that. This is where you just die.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” Jason could hear Fallor mutter.

“No, because you’re my only enemy here right now, and your not going to stop me by yourself.”

“At least we can agree on that.”

Tom stood over me so smugly and so deathly serious. So foolishly.

Tom’s face contorted with pain. Blood began to well-up from dozens of puncture wounds as the ice that stabbed him quickly melted back into water. His clothes became drenched in blood but were utterly undamaged by any external attacks. Tom coughed up more blood, and silently fell over to bleed to death.

“No!” Jason yelled as he sprinted over to his dying friend.

“Jason! It’s not real! You can’t change anything!” Gruff yelled as he chased after him. All of Jason’s effort seemed to be in vain as every spell he cast did nothing to heal the dying Tom. Soon the shield mage learned he couldn’t even touch Tom as his hands passed right through him. “I told you already you can’t change what happens we’re just observers.”

The scene quickly faded to black, and just as quickly reappeared into a new venue. Here it was considerably quieter as Jason looked around the room. It was large and mostly empty, pillars made of black and white marble ran down the center of the room. Strange arcane rune marked many of the walls, and a long red carpet went from a large oaken doorway several stories in height to the other end of the room between the twin rows of pillars. At the other end of the room the carpet ran up a small flight of stairs and stopped right in front of a rather grand looking throne made of more black marble carved to create three prongs at the top of the back making it look like a crown. That was where Fallor sat on a large fluffy pillow.

Muffled footsteps echoed, catching Jason’s attention. He turned his head back to the entrance showing Nick walking down the long path leading to the base of the stairs where he stopped and looked up at Fallor. Both men were clad in robes. Nick wore black robes trimmed in silver with a simple blue sash around his waist. While Fallor also wore black robes, but they are simply black except for the blood red sash he wore as a belt and the golden crown encrusted with emeralds and sapphires. Nick was deathly serious looking, while Fallor himself looked indifferent with a hint of contempt. Both were silent for a moment.

“I’ve done as you’ve asked.” Nick said after a moment longer breaking the silence. His voice also echoed in the empty room.

“And?” Was Fallor’s only response.

“I want you to meet your end of the deal.”

“No.”

“No? I killed Tom and Zeke. I imprisoned Lee and used him as a red herring to keep the others searching for a soon to be dead man. I doubled the size of your army and am days away from defeating your enemies for you, and your answer is no?”

“It’s no because you haven’t finished what we agreed to.”

“No.”

“No? Don’t tell me your getting cold feet?”

“It’s no because I don’t trust you will hold up your end of the bargain after I’ve finished. I have done more than enough to at least receive physical proof of it instead of that sneak peek you gave me. I can still fix most of the damage if you don’t.”

“Fine.” Fallor waved his hand and a small portal formed in front of Nick. It was just large enough to see through but not to get through if he tried. Jason could clearly see the other-side of it which appeared to be traffic, as cars zoomed by on the freeway. It then switched to the image of a massive crater with rubble littering everywhere. Nick extended his hand through the portal and pulled back a piece of concrete from the other end. It sat there in the palm of his hand in stark contrast to the room around them.

“You did it.”

“I told you. Now finish your task and you may go home.”

“Fine.” Without another word he walked away carrying the piece of concrete in his hand looking contemplative all the way.

Nick turned out to be a shrewd ally. He doubted every word I spoke demanded proof at every corner. And barely helped in any task unless I proved my willingness to cooperate. And still he refuses at trust anything from me, as if I’m going to betray him at any moment. To be fair though he’s probably right about that, but he is my most valuable asset in this war. With him I shall rule.

Jason stood there stunned at what he had heard. After he regained his wits Jason looked over at Gruff.

“I’m done here… take me back.” Wordlessly he did so. Soon Jason found himself standing amongst the vast collection of books of Gruff’s library. “Is this really the future.”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe? Give me a straight answer.” Jason replied harshly.

“It’s maybe because it is a possibility. It hasn’t happened yet. This is just one of many possible futures like I have already told you many times before.” Gruff spoke soothingly, understanding how he must feel after that last display.

“What are the other possibilities?”

“Many. You don’t need to know them all. Just this. If you don’t return to Volst this future is much more likely.”

“I have no idea how I’m supposed to get back to my time.”

“I’m working on that, but you will be long dead by the time I finish.” Jason gave him a severe look that made the Commodore speak quickly. “In a century another of your friends will arrive before the phyrexian invasion he will be the key to your return.”

“That doesn’t solve my dilemma of being dead.”

“Have faith, and go to sleep.” The elderly planeswalker waved his hand in the last statement putting the unaware Jason to sleep almost immediately. He then muttered a few words and Jason began to fade and a simple compass appeared where he had fallen. The caretaker of the library pocketed the compass and quietly walked away reshelving the book as he did so.

~#~#~#~

“Finished, finally.” Alex said somewhat relieved to himself. He had spent weeks inside this map room splitting his attention between learning the gate technology and understanding rudimentary time-space mechanics. This didn’t even cover how he was supposed to apply all of it without a practical application to test all this theory on. Of course in order to test it he would have to go to Phyrexia, and that was beyond an understatement of every bad idea anyone could think of.

“Don’t worry so much Alex. I’ll be there to help you.” Alex heard in his ear. Without thinking he stood up quickly flipping the chair he had been sitting in over. He was lightning fast as he turned to face the voice. Behind him several yards away Syeahrs stood watching him. That was a person he didn’t want to see right now.

Past and Future Tense

Pain was definitely a sensation Alex was growing accustomed too as he woke up covered in books and shelving. His head seemed to manage a terrible burning sensation along with the pressure of a few boulders at the same time. It was a new experience that he would rather forget. This he guessed is what a hangover felt like.

“Ah! Right on time Alex!” A voice called rather animatedly. Which in turn brought new levels of pain to Alex as he groaned, and attempted to cover his ears and eye as he felt the weight of the bookshelves disappear. “Oh come now Alex don’t give me that. We have much work to do before I die.”

“What?” Alex replied dully after a moment of working up the nerve to open his eyes.

The source of the voice became evident almost immediately as an elderly man wearing rather flamboyant blue and red robes stood before his. He seemed a strange mix of impatient and jovial as he waited.

“Alex, we have little time for this tomfoolery. I have much to teach you.” Eventually the boy ‘walker stood up, to face the man who he had crashed in on.

“Who are you. How do you know my name? Where am I?” Were the questions he shot out almost immediately when he found himself stable enough to stand.

“My name is Commodore Guff, and I am your master for now.”

~#~#~#~

Teleportation forced or otherwise should not be this painful. Jason thought as he found himself climbing from a pile of books from the shelf he clearly had slammed into as he exited the portal.

“What in blazes are you doing?!” A voice yelled out at him. That made his headache much worse.

“Sorry, I didn’t have any control over the exit it was an accident.” Jason began his apology as he turned around to seen a rather large forked beard.

Startled he fell over back into the pile of books he had just climbed out of.

“Watch it you fool you’ll damage them!”

“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were so close.”

“Stop apologizing and clean this mess up!”

“Yes sir.” After several long minutes of replacing the books, everything was back in order. Only afterward did Jason remember he could have just used magic to clean it up.

“Now, who are you, and what are you doing in my library?” The old man asked the shield Mage.

That was a good question he had absolutely no idea how he had gotten from a coma to here. Unless he was still dreaming and Shredder lied to him. He guessed he should probably handle one crisis at a time though since this old man looked like he was about to take his head off. It’s okay though. He bet if it came down to it he could take him.

“I’m Jason and I have no idea how I got here. I was battling well a… thing. I beat it, then walked through a door, and I woke up here with you yelling at me.” The elderly man looked like he was shifting between disbelief and pity before speaking again.

“You really have no idea where you are?”

“Uh no I’m not even sure what plane I’m on. It’s clearly not Volst.”

“Volst?”

“My home-plane or at least my current one. It was empty before we arrived so we named it that… Last year? That sounds about right. Anyway, where am I?”

“Dominaria, and more specifically my Hidden Library of Ages.”

“Wait, that can’t be right. Then that makes you…”

“Commodore Guff, the caretaker of this place.”

“Bullshit”

“Excuse me?”

“You can’t be him. Commodore Guff died stopping the final invasion of the Phyrexians.”

“The Phyrexians? They haven’t been seen for a millennia.”

“What year is it?”

“4105 AR”

“I…have a story for you. That you might want to hear.”

“Very well follow me.”

~#~#~#~

It had only been a few days since he had dropped in on Gruff, but it seemed like a lifetime ago that Alex had been about to rest in his room before the attack on the campus. It seemed silly that he had gone from two serious life or death ordeals to studying Phyrexian gate technology under the instruction of a soon to be dead planeswalker. He had told him everything he had known about how he had gotten here, and all Gruff would say is he knew. When Alex asked how he could have known that, he simply replied. By the most trusted of sources, himself. Which frankly confused him, but the young mage felt he didn’t really want to think about it. The unexplainable time travel was enough of a headache already.

“Are you not done with those scrolls yet?” A voice behind him inquired. Alex took his eyes away from his current reading project to turn around. A few feet away Guff stood in the doorway of his study chamber looking from the small pile of unread books and scrolls to the pile Alex had already read, which was vastly smaller. He felt like he could understand how Nick felt about his paperwork a little more now. He hoped his reading material wouldn’t grow to that extent though.

Alex placed the scroll back onto the table before replying.

“No, the simple research you talked about seems to have steadily grown into quite a chore. This is the driest reading I’ve ever had. What’s the point of this again?” With a simple wave of his hand all of the reading material vanished from in front of Alex. Next thing the boy ‘walker knew he was being shooed away into another area.

“Nope, this screen time is far too valuable to waste in silly explanations that I’ve already said.”

“B-but you haven’t explained anything.” Alex stammered as he barely managed to keep up with the ageless planeswalker.

“I never said I explained it to you.” Soon with barely a word Alex had decended dozens of flights of stairs into a room he had never seen before. Inside the spacious room made his study seem clausterphobic by comparison. The high ceiling had stood at least three stories high with a shapes of varying colors shift into new colors and shapes on the field of black, in their own way they seemed infinite in number, but readable all the same. Gruff quickly left Alex’s side to stand atop a simple wooden platform with railing on three sides carved almost like a wooden chariot without wheels.

As his stood atop it, nothing happened at first till the wizened planeswalker spoke.

“Up please.” Almost immediately the platform rose into the air with nothing attached to it. He continued his ascent until he almost reached the ceiling above. As he extended his palm a central color blot slowly pealed itself from its place and expanded into a bigger form that could be easier seen from below. “Tell me Alex, do you know what this is?”

Alex himself walked closer to Gruff and looked at the blotch that floated above him.

“I have no idea.”

“This.” Gruff pointed to the spot. ” Is Dominaria. It’s a nexus plane that connects to all other planes in the multiverse. This library contains every book ever written past, present, and future. This plane or another’s. If it has ever been or will be recorded it exists here.

“How can you have a book that hasn’t been written yet?”

“Because this place would be less intriguing for the narrative if it didn’t.”

~#~#~#~

This was a fine mess Jason had gotten himself into. After explaining what he knew about the future events Guff got very quiet. He mumbled something about Jason being allowed to stay and walked off suddenly distracted by something.

That was two weeks ago. Since then the white planeswalker hadn’t seen or heard from Guff, and had taken to exploring the library and reading some of the books inside of it. Some were interesting about certain fields of magic or about the history of this country or that, but most were painfully dry reading and he doubted he’d be able to finish any of them if he didn’t have so much time to himself.

Today Jason had found himself in a new part of the library. While most sections had been labeled for what could be found inside this one was strangely unmarked. It’s contents remained wholly unknown to the shield Mage as he thumbed through some of the books and scrolls.

Most seemed simply to be the ramblings of one person or another nothing that really surprised him. Not until he came across a small leather bound book. It was thin but every page was filled with familiar handwriting.

“That’s from your plane.” A voice muttered from behind Jason drawing his attention away.

“I’m sorry I didn’t realize you were here.”

“Don’t be, you were here first.” The elderly man replied.

“Do you know who wrote this?” Jason asked showing him the book.

“No, the author never uses his or her name, but I can show you what they said.”

“Do it.”

Shield Game

“You know this won’t end until you defeat me.” The armored figure in front of him stated in a matter of fact tone. This irked Jason even more since he had failed to to win this stupid game fifteen times in a row so far, and it didn’t look like it was about to change anytime soon.

“And why’s that Gohryo?”

“If you are going to use my name use all of it.” The samurai sternly demanded. He could be considered an imposing figure standing a full foot and a half over Jason himself. His traditional ō-yoroi armor likely added several inches by itself. It had a mix of vibrant gold metal plates and blue leather padding finally ending with a blood red demons mask to conceal his face underneath. He often found his attention drawn to that mask. Half wondering what was under it, and half wondering why he hides his face to begin with.

“Fine, Gohryo Niyou’do, He Who Shreds Walls, why’s that?” He repeated again.

“You don’t need to use my title. Just my name.”

“Just answer the damn question!” Jason finally spat out. He was getting more frustrated after each game and these name games were not helping.

“As you wish. You are currently in a coma from the blast that knocked you out at the “campus” as you put it. So until you are healed, which given the state of things is unlikely, you’re stuck here with me. Unless you can defeat me in my challenge. Then you may leave through one of the doors behind me. Which will give you freedom from your coma and myself in one fell swoop.”

“What doors?” The white mage peered behind his captor noticing two simple paper doors with something scrawled above them. “Oh those doors. So let me get this straight, if I beat you all this ends?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the catch? Why are you helping me?” He asked suddenly suspicious of the katana wielding nut job in front of him.

“The catch is you have to defeat me first. Which you have failed to do thus far. And my reasons are my own, just think of it as an added incentive to win.” He didn’t like that one bit, but he really had no choice in the matter.

“Fine, same game as last time?”

“Yes.”

“Good, let’s get started then.”

~#~#~#~

Whispers in the darkness surrounded him. Clearly present, but never quite understood. It was maddening. He thrashed around in void, searching for the source or sources of his latest torture.

“What do you want!?” He yelled out to the nothingness. It was his home and prison now, and this latest attack was very unwelcome here. He knew he couldn’t win after his last escape attempt. Even trying only made things worse for him.

Weakling. He’s so pathetic. Why won’t he just DIE. Suddenly the voices could be heard. They were speaking to one another about him.

“Go away! If The Rat hears you he’ll find me!” He called out too them again. He wasn’t ready for a rematch yet. He knew The Rat would win again if he tried to face it again. And the next time he did he might not be so lucky a second time.

Why is something this pitiful still alive. He’s hiding in his own mind. He’s worthless, why even bother? He’s just going to die in the end like the vermin he is.

“Hey, it’s not my fault I’m this way! Okay it is, but you don’t have to be so rude about it!”

Why don’t you just die? Die. Die. DIE. DIE!

“NO! Will you just shut up already!? I’m not going to die! I’m going to live and be free. I just need to figure out how. And if you’re not going to help me. GO AWAY!” Silence again permeated the area. He was alone again. He could finally get back to work.

“Alright Zeke I’ll help you.” A lone female voice spoke to him from behind. He jerked around to see the source. He didn’t know if his heart sank or was elated to see it’s source. A little of both he supposed, if it meant freedom anyway.

The form of Jyan’us Hyiel stood before him. Well a form anyway. It seemed like a lifetime ago since he last saw her, but he remembered her being taller and made of jet and marble. This form was pure marble, and she seemed less monstrous. And more human. Well as human as a hideously disfigured and disproportionate statue could be anyway.

“You will?”

“Well no, but I can lead you to someone who can.”

“Who?”

“That is a complicated question. Just wait and see for yourself. Oh and one more thing.” Zeke braced himself for the worst. “This is your battle, he can help, but success or failure lies solely on you. I will not help you again. Am I understood?”

“Yes, just take me to this person.”

“Very well.”

~#~#~#~

You’re running out of time. Gohryo whispered in Jason’s mind as he finished his initial towers. He hated this game. Not because he kept losing or that it was a tower defense game. He hated it because it required more than his magic to win.

The rules stated that he wasn’t allowed to use his magic to protect the outer areas of his castle. Just these stupid towers, and if he didn’t use the towers he’s just get overwhelmed by the suits of armor that marched down his path. But he couldn’t simply build what he needed from the beginning. He got a couple freebies first, then had to earn enough to build more towers.

This was a real life tower defense game, and it was starting to annoy him. Tick tock, times up. And his opponents constant talking in his brain was not helping. He had already lost two games since the samurai told him about his way out, and he was not about to make it three.

In the distance the thunderous sound of soulless automata marching his way echo through out the valley. It was starting and he didn’t know if he was really ready or not. I guess I’ll find out. Jason told himself as the first few enemies trickled into view. At least he was allowed to let a few in.

“Come on, I only need to hold out till dawn.” The ‘walker muttered to himself as the archers atop his first tower opened fire.

~#~#~#~

“Just step through this door.” Jyan’us told Zeke as a door materialised. Zeke felt uncomfortable suddenly at the idea of blindly following this person’s instructions.

“Are you sure? Because the last door you wanted me to go through, you tried to kill me to stop me.” Her face lacked any emotional response to his crack. She didn’t even seem annoyed when she spoke next.

“Yes I’m sure. This is a door of my own making. There is nothing to be gained from me stopping you.”

“Right.” He wasn’t sure if she let something slip or not. “So where does it lead?”

“You’ll find out.” The biomage raised his furry hands in mock surrender.

“Alright you win, but if this leads to a deathtrap, I’m going to be very annoyed.” He commented as he stepped through the door.

“Only if you fail.”

“Was that a joke?” Zeke asked in confusion as he turned around, but when he did his marble guide was gone. “I guess not.”

Without another word he stepped through not entirely prepared for what he was about to see.

~#~#~#~

“I hate this game. I hate this game. I hate this game. I hate this game” Jason kept repeating that same phrase over and over again. He was on his seventeenth wave, and he had already lost two towers. Good thing he has dozens more built.

Jason rushed to the castle walls surveying the scene below him. In the distance he could see rows of armor marching down the only path to him. Taking every hit he threw at them. Archer towers fired volley after volley of arrows felling many of the weaker ones, but sheer numbers seemed to prevail here.

As they neared his secondary line gouts of fire burst from shorter towers burning even more to death, but they kept coming. More and more once they made it too his castle he had to defend it himself. A curse and a blessing for him really. He supposed it was time to prepare his last line of defenses.

~#~#~#~

“Oh god why!” Zeke screamed as he fell from the sky into a strangely deep pond. He was disorientated as he flailed around drinking who knows how much water from when he was screaming. He was lucky he didn’t belly-flop into it. Finally after several long moments of panic and drowning Zeke managed to pull himself from the water. He coughed and vomited up a lot of the stuff before finally standing. He looked around to see an old man sitting on the porch of his home. A simple wooden structure that was a little too symmetrical to be made by hand. He rocked back and forth in his chair watching him recover. Not speaking or making any attempt to help the clearly distressed person not thirty feet away.

Finally after several more coughing fits Zeke worked up the nerve to speak.

“Aren’t you going to at least ask if I’m okay?” Zeke called out to the stranger who continued to lazily rock in his chair, still not making any move to help him.

“Clearly you are if you can ask dumb questions. And besides I haven’t quite decided yet.”

“Decided what?”

“Decided if you are another manifestation of my mind to amuse me or not.”

“Why would you need to decide that?”

“Because the only other option is you’re a manifestation trying to kill me.”

“Ooooor, I could be real. Real sounds good to me. Where are we anyway?” The old man let out a hearty laugh and slapping his knee in amusement. “What’s so funny?”

“Most of my would be assassins aren’t this dull witted. You can’t be real because we are both located inside my mind. None of this is real boy.” Zeke felt his jaw drop from the comment completely missing the opening insult.

“How do you know this isn’t real?” Zeke felt strangely warm and dry and the pond water evaporated with the pond itself. He then had to quickly run away before the sudden army of pine trees hit him.

“Because I have been living this lucid dream for the past three centuries.”

“Okay, okay I get it.” The now standing Zeke walked closer to the stranger.

“Hold it right there squirrel boy. Not a step closer.” The old man pointed his cane at Zeke speaking in a stern manner.

“Why not? I’m not going to hurt you. I need your help in fact.” The old man put his cane back on the ground, never breaking eye contact. After a moment of silence he began to speak again.

“My help? This should be good. Okay then, tell me your story.”

“How far back do you want me to go?”

“The beginning is fine. We have nothing but time here.”

“I don’t know if you’re going to believe me.”

“Try me. My own story is rather strange. The worst that can happen is I don’t believe you.” A simple wooden chair spawned next to Zeke. It seemed rather inviting, so he took a seat before he began.

“Well you see I wasn’t always a squirrel.”

~#~#~#~

Another sword bounced off of Jason’s spell armor as he defended the main gate. His own sword cut the head off of an enemy soldier which was quickly replaced by another.

“Forget this.” Jason muttered to himself before projecting a basic force wave to push them back to give him a few seconds of breathing room. A small pocket of them opens up long enough for him to cast his next spell. In a flash dozens more swords floated around the opening slashing one after another at the soldiers.

Now letting his own weapons fight for him Jason began the next part of his defense placing layer upon layer of defensive shield spells. Soon he found the clockwork soldiers burning from simply touching the shield, as he weaved more offensive spells into the fabric of his barrier. This wouldn’t stop them forever of course, but it would buy him valuable time for the final stretch. Now all he had to do was prepare.

~#~#~#~

“So let me get this straight. You were once human and lived on a plane where magic didn’t exist on.”

“Yes.”

“You then were inexplicably transported to another plane along with the rest of your college that doesn’t study magic.”

“Yes.”

“And there, you and your friends found out they could cast magic, and some were even planeswalkers, beings of incredible magical power able to traverse the multiverse at will.”

“Yes.”

“But all was not well, since you and several other of your friends abused your power by testing it on another one of your fellow mages, and he finally got fed up and left. But you didn’t see the him wanting payback part coming.”

“Well you see…”

“And then after several attempts by him he disappeared for a while followed by this Tom and Lee.

“You see…”

“And while all this was going on you accidentally turned yourself into a rat while trying to fix your eyesight, but you didn’t want to be a rat and couldn’t stop it so you turned into a squirrel instead. Which then created an evil rat version of yourself that is smarter than you, that is also trying to destroy your college and rule over an empty plane devoid of sentient life.”

“Kinda…”

“And on top of all that creatures theorized to have spawned from what you call “wild magic” began also spawning in large numbers attacking the campus.”

“Sorta…”

“AND suddenly amidst all this a strange figure made of jet and marble forced you into a hedge maze battle game so you could leave through a door that you don’t know where it leads, but it was your only option.”

“Sigh…”

“Oh and while this game was happening your rat side took over and tried to kill everyone with an army of rats that didn’t exist before but was controlled by a beacon placed on a moon that you convinced people needed to be built. And after the army and rat was thwarted you or the rat pretending to be you convinced people that the moon needed to be blown up instead of just the device. Ignoring the consequences of destroying such a large satellite so close by.”

“It sounds kind of silly when you put it that way.”

“And then, while on the strike team to destroy it and playing the game this Fallor showed back up and captured you all which consisted of several high level mages and planeswalkers. And he lured rat you disguise as squirrel you into a one on one fight where they joined forces and faked their own deaths and simultaneously winning your hedge maze game thus sending you, Fallor, and the moon into another time and plane of existence where they debated whether a plague or a curse was more effective. And using the explosion generated by the super weapon during the brothers war they managed to teleport back to the correct time and plane with the moon. At which time they began their game which to a now Evil Lee leading an army of those shifters and another planeswalker using using a beast army to do a simultaneous three way attack that overwhelmed the defenders and killed a bunch of people.”

“Can I just say…”

“And finally an enraged Tom who now magically has returned from who-knows-where accidentally created a giant monster that killed even more people and imploded destroying what was left of your campus flinging the survivors, if any, to somewhere else.”

“But I…”

“And you need my help to defeat the rat that now controls your body, so you can be free to find your remaining friends and or kill Fallor and the rest of the people responsible for the attack.”

“Yes.”

“Okay now that that has been cleared up shall we begin?”

“Wait what?” After the old man had repeated a story that after saying it sounded utterly ridiculous unless you were there. Hearing him say that last line had caught Zeke utterly by surprise.

“I was always going to help you. I just wanted to hear how absurd your story really was. Anyway…” The old man easily stood up for someone of such advanced years, and stretched his arms and legs relieving any stiffness from his muscles and joints. “You’re a biomage is what I gathered from that tale no?”

“Yes in simple terms I have an affinity for green and white magic.”

“No blue.?”

“No I don’t like blue magic much. It never struck me as… fair.”

“Hmm that might be a problem then. It would have been easier to spend the next few months teaching you about mind magic, but that’s not really an option now.” He rubbed his bearded chin in contemplation. Not really paying any mind to the person sitting in front of him anymore.

“Why would that have been easier?”

“Because now I have to teach you how to manipulate the inside of your mind without an easy medium. It took me years to master control of this world, and I was trained by the best mind mage in history.”

“Really? And who would that be?”

“Oh you probably don’t know him. He’s from another plane. He’s a merfolk by the name of Ambassador Laquatus.” Zeke felt his jaw drop at the name the guy had said so casually. As if he were talking about the weather, and not a mass murdering psychopath. “Oh you do know of him.”

“Yeah, only in texts though. I know what he did to the merfolk and how he died, but I’ve never heard of him having a student, let alone a human one.”

“That’s because anyone who did know died.”

“So, why are you here now?”

“That’s a story for another time I’m afraid.”

“Then can you at least tell me your name.”

“For now you may call me Ezra.” He offered his hand to the squirrel person in front of him. After a brief hesitant pause Zeke returned the gesture.

“Hello Ezra, I’m Zeke.”

~#~#~#~

“Finished, finally just in time.” Jason muttered to himself as his final spell finished applying itself. It would have been a thousand times easier to combine the spells if Chebon were here. In fact it would have been a thousand times easier if any of his other friends were here. For a game of defense it was pretty hard to win without an offensive caster present. Ah well it just meant he needed to double his effort to win.

In the distance Jason could see Gohryo mounted atop a black horse shrouded in shadow. The demon faced samarai pulled back on the reins of his mount to come to a stop at the end of the valley path with hundreds of tin-soldiers between him and Jason’s fortress. Then with a single hand motion the last wave of the battle charged his defensive line.

Dozens were shot, immolated, melted, blown-up, sliced, diced, exploded, and flat-out crushed, but there were hundreds more to replace them. So many it congested the path they had to follow. Marching ever forward towards oblivion or victory. Never stopping from the endless barrage of attacks. As one fell the rest simply continued marching forward crushing the remnants of their fallen comrade into dust as if it wasn’t there. Within minutes they had punched through to the shield mage’s last line of defense where he had been patiently waiting.

Without a word Jason charged forward, his spells became evident as the destroyed and intact bodies of the armor soldiers made contact with him. They began to crumple by a mere touch and reform into pieces of armor. As more touched him the armor would grow greater in size. Fully encasing the gate’s lone defender. Finally after growing larger than the very castle gate he was defending, the huge metal samarai began attacking. Destroying scores of them with long horizontal slashes from his equally massive katana.

Eventually, he broke through the hoards of enemies to his real target. The master of these fake soldiers. Still sitting atop his shadow stead wielding a naginata, The Shredder of Walls charged the mech-clad ‘walker heading as if he was going to joust him with the glaive-like weapon. Jason himself chopped downwards at his opponent hoping to bisect him. Seeing this the golden armored entity loosened his grip to allow the weapon to slip further from its center. Then in one smooth motion spun the weapon upwards adding to its momentum till the blades of both combatants connected.

Jason was startled by the strength of the impact as he felt himself take a step backwards to keep himself from falling down. Gohryo quickly followed up with another that Jason attempted to block with his off hand only for it to become severed. Reversing his hold on the shaft of his weapon the horseman attacked from Jason’s opposite side now which the ‘walker made a vain attempt to parry. Resulting in his mech’s other arm to become severed.

“Come now, you’re toy is useless. Fight me like a man.” Wordlessly the giant charged Gohryo trying to crush him, and with barely a thought he in turn hacked the legs off of it sending him crashing down in front of him. Gohryo dismounted and cautiously approached his victim. It seemed like he had won, but felt like a trap. Eventually he found himself standing on the chest of the prone metal giant. With his opponent showing no sign of leaving his shell, the warrior turned his pole-arm weapon upside down and stabbed to finish this round.

As if in reaction to the attack what was left of Jason’s creation exploded with enough force to incinerate him and everything within a thirty foot radius. The flames continued to burn with intensity beyond the strength of mundane fire, as more of the solders marched endlessly into them with little regard for their inevitable deaths. And in the center two figures stood. Both untouched by the flames.

“You know this won’t stop me.” Jason smirked at the comment.

“I know. The flames aren’t for you. They’re for me.”

“What?” He had barely said the words before the inferno around them began to shrink and compress. Eventually the fire raged only on the blade of the katana that Jason had been holding in his right hand. It was extended outward not pointed at anything. Then darkness rushed forth engulfing and mingling with the fire-blade. They seemed to clash and fight for dominance.

“Normally I would use sunlight, but that’s not really an option here.” The planeswalker raised the blade above his head into a double-handed grip and charged forward. Gohryo himself threw away the weapon that had splintered in his hands and drew his own blade to clash with the supercharged weapon. It was his turn to defend as he parried one strike after another from Jason. Each impact whether against his weapon or the area around them erupted with fire and shadow. And the battle continued to rage on.

~#~#~#~

What had been the span of a few minutes felt like hours to Jason. The fighting seemed to grow more intense as time passed. He knew the end was getting close he just had to hold out a little longer. Although the battle had been brutal, as it carried out into the ranks of the marching army. Jason would likely have felt terrible killing so many of the things if they had been real people. But they weren’t which made him feel indifferent towards them as they inevitably were caught in the crossfire of the two combatants.

As they parted from their latest clash Jason sent a wave of darkness to envelope his opponent. Which failed in that task, but pulled dozens of soldiers into it to never be seen again. Gohryo retaliated with a storm of blades that rained down on not only him but his own creations. He saw many collapse from the shear volume of the various knives, swords, scythes, and other bladed instruments that cut and pierced the things around him. Jason himself was perfectly safe from one of the many shield spells he had cast previously. So all he could see were the weapons bounce off of it and land harmlessly in a pile on the ground around him.

Then with little warning Gohryo burst from the ground cutting upward and sundering part of Jason’s chest piece of his spell armor. Blood seeped from the wound inflicted as he fell back onto the ground. The injury was wicked and painful. His demon masked foe stood over him now. The eyes almost mocking him and his pitiful attempts to best him.

“Say it.”

“Say what?” Jason wheezed.

“Say that I’ve won. You can’t win this time dawn is to far away and I’m about to end it again.” Looking up at his opponent, Jason could tell that he was right. With his injury and his current placement, there was no way he could win in a fight.

“Alright Shredder you…”

“What did you say?” He interrupted.

“I was about to say that you…”

“Not that! What did you call me!?” He interrupted Jason again. He often gave an air of indifference towards Jason. But now from his body-language and tone he could sense anger or indignation from the person that so easily bested him.

“I called you Shredder.”

“That’s not my name!”

“Sure it is. It’s in you’re name after all.”

“My Name Is Gohryo Niyou’do! That Is Part Of My Title, And It’s He Who Shreds Walls. Shredder Isn’t In There At All.”

“But Shredder is way easier to say and is so much cooler sounding. It’s like you’re the main villain in the ninja turtles.”

“I’m Not a Ninja Turtle!”

“No, you’re Shredder who was a bad ass alien that wore samurai armor. Although he didn’t use your weapons, but hey close enough.

“You Will Address Me By My Proper Name Or I’ll…!”

“Or you’ll what?” It was Jason’s turn to interrupt now, and it felt good to get under this bastard’s skin. “Kill me? Beat me up? Make me play in an infinite loop of games that hurt me? Admit it Shredder you have nothing to threaten me with.”

“I Will End You!” Shredder spat out at the prone ‘walker. Jason had definitely made him angry, and that was good, because angry people were stupid people. He could feel Gohryo’s anger as he raised him blade to attack.

He clearly planned to kill Jason to finish this game instead of forcing a yield. As the katana descended spirits erupted from the ground beneath Jason absorbing the attack. The the black semi-opac ghosts swirled around the blade, and as more arrived they would surround more and more of the swordsman. Gohryo swung his blade again at Jason and again the spirits of the dead formed a wall that absorbed the attack, but that wasn’t all. With each additional attack from the enraged warrior equivalent marks appeared on his own armor. As if he was attacking himself.

Soon the roles were reversed as Jason was standing over the injured and kneeling form of Gohryo Niyou’do. He was breathing hard and cut marks riddled his armor and the wall of souls still swarmed around him, keeping him at bay. Then the the first rays of the dawn light began to trickle into view, slowly filling him with warmth and relief. Until finally Jason felt himself bask into the full light of morning.

“No! NO! IT CAN’T END THIS WAY!” He wailed at Jason. Jason could feel the large grin forming at those words. Then as if to jerk him from the after glow of his success, the protection mage could feel darkness overtake him as he found himself standing inside that same barren stone room with the paper doors he began in. Gohryo wasn’t anywhere to be seen though. He felt strangely nervous being alone, but it wasn’t anytime to falter not after he had come this far.

Wordlessly Jason stepped over to one of the doors and read the word “Night” over one of the doors and deciding that one was as good as any stepped through, to leave the room and battle behind him.

The Fourth ‘Walker

“Please Syeahrs, let me go .” Alex asked again for the hundredth time. The harlequin giggled a little at his request. She never seemed to grow tired of him no matter how irritating the boy ‘walker made himself.

“I’m sorry Alex, but I can’t do that. I need you here.” She responded playfully yet sympathetic to his predicament.

“Why not?! The campus is under attack they need me to help defend it!” Alex responded in exasperation at her reply.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure they’re doing fine without you. You’re not the only powerful planeswalker there to protect it, and besides why would you have been put to sleep if they needed you?” He wasn’t making any progress with her as usual. He might as well get her game over with so he can leave to help out. If he’s lucky he might wake up before it was to late.

“Alright, I’ll play, but first answer a question for me.” Syeahrs cocked her head in what he could assume was curiosity, then began to preform slow backflips. As she stopped mid flip into a curled handstand she finally spoke again.

“Sure Alex, fire away. I don’t mind.” He took in a deep breath before asking. Then after framing the question he began.

“Why are we doing this every time I sleep? You’re clearly real, because I wouldn’t be having this dream every single night for the past eight months.” Syeahrs finally finished her handstand by switching to cartwheels around her associate.

“Oh that’s an easy one. Because I want you to grow.” Now Alex was really confused.

“What kinda if asinine answer is that?”

“Sorry Alex, just one question tonight. Now let’s begin”

“Fine if you’ll let me, what’s tonight’s game going to be?”

“I think tonight we’ll play hide and seek.” Alex let out a sigh. Syeahrs, The Unbound Victor, as she called herself once, had changed the the game they played every night. First they dueled, then they raced, she even had him play a slightly more difficult version of tennis. And every time she beat him while giving him advice or words of encouragement to beat her. She had to be the most frustratingly helpful opponent he had ever faced.

“What’s the twist?” The planeswalker asked tiredly, knowing full well there would be one. Finally, after several more passes his opponent slowed to a stop to stand in front of him, only a few feet away. Then while placing her hands on her hips she leaned forward so close his face almost touched her mask.

“You will be hiding and while I look for you there will be a weapon hidden as well. If you can find the weapon without me capturing you first, and you can use it to beat me, you win.”

“It’s that simple?”

“That simple.”

“Then let’s get started.”

“I thought you would never ask.” Without a second thought the harlequin backfliped. Her foot came dangerously close to his face, making him flinch out of reaction, and when his eyes opened again she was gone.

That wasn’t the only change the young Mage soon realized. The empty he guessed temple room was replaced by an infinite abyss. Spires jutted from nothing, and moved in seemingly random directions, along with a mishmash of floating platforms like the one he now stood on. Suddenly, he felt a strong wind pushing against him. Not enough to move him, but enough to make him think carefully about where he jumped. And if that wasn’t enough heavy rain, thunder, and lightning began hammering his senses. It was good because it would help him hide, but also bad since it hid his opponent as well.

Soon, more changes followed as random platforms jutted fragments of brick and stone wall. Along with lamp posts, billboards, and cars all of which looked to be from the campus.

“Hi!” A tiny and excited little voice yelled in his ear.

“Ah!” Alex yelled back startled for a second before realizing who it was. He glanced over towards the voice he heard to see a miniature Syeahrs standing in his shoulder. “Feth Seahry, how many times do I have to goram tell you not to do that?”

“Sorry sorry, I just got really excited!”

“That’s what she said.”

“It is what I said!” She happily replied not catching the joke at all. Her crudely made mask slipped a little off her face. He remembered when she had made it during a particularly intense game of pictionary Syeahrs made him play. Seahry didn’t have a mask when they first met and guessed she wanted one to be more like her “big sister” as she put it. “Anyway now that the stage is set what’s your plan?”

“Oh the kind that may get one or both of us in trouble.” The three inch tall girl jumped up and down, utterly delighted by the idea and completely unaffected by the wind and rain.

“That’s the best! Whadda we do?”

“Well first…”

~#~#~#~

“You should have let me go back.” The blue robed ‘walker told his fiery counterpart in moderate irritation. The pyromancer next to him looked bemused by his current state of being.

“Why so you can attempt to repair a bruised ego. Who cares if he got the better of you? It was his mind. He had… What was that saying they used again? “Home-field advantage?” That feels right anyway.”

“You’re not seriously using their terminology now?”

“Why not? I find several of them rather endearing, and besides we have other concerns at the moment.” Jace’s expression hardened for a brief moment as the conversation took a change in topics.”

“Garruk…”

“He has never been so openly hostile to a civilization before. Maybe a rather large amount of distaste and loathing for it, but never such… active aggression.”

“I know. Do you think we should monitor him as well? Or take more “direct” actions.”

“Let’s keep our distance for now. Gideon seems to have bought us some time at least.”

“Very well, I’ll trust your judgment on this.”

“Good, thanks this situation is going to take a delicate touch if it’s gonna play out right.”

With little else to say, the two mages continued to pack for their new location.

~#~#~#~

“Come on Alex, all I need to do is tag you, and we can be done for the night. Or you can keep hiding and hoping I don’t find you while you locate the spotlight.” Syeahrs’ voice echoed through the maelstrom raging around the clear as day. Giving him an idea of where she was at least. She had to have been doing it on purpose, because even the jingling of her bells could be heard through this mess.

Alex himself had been jumping around looking for the dammed weapon since the game began. Even after Seahry told him everything she knew about the game it still wasn’t much to go on, but he had a plan for this one at least. Tapping into his blue mana reserves he summoned up just enough for his spell to cast and stay hidden. While some of the potency was gone stealth was more important at the moment.

Several small orbs rolled onto the floor as he finished casting. They all came to a stop at his feet, and with the racket in his right hand he served each one in a different direction. They bounced around sensing for him. Till one finally pinged a positive response.

“Gotcha.”

~#~#~#~

Syeahrs stalked the darkness searching for her target. She only allowed the sounds of her bells and voice travel in the storm raging around them. She had to give him some help, otherwise how would he succeed? It was a game after all. An important game, but a game none the less. Either he would improve enough to win or they would simply continue the next time he slept. It didn’t make much difference to her. The games were fun after all.

Only a glimpse of Alex appeared in the peripherals, but it was enough for her to track him.

“Sorry Alex, looks like we get to play again.” The jester muttered to herself in mild self satisfaction. Running under the platforms she chased her target. He seemed oblivious, even though she still let him hear her approach. At the edge of their fifth platform she climbed up in front of him cutting off his path. Then with little effort, a net made of bright violet energy sprang forth from her extended palm wrapping around its intended target. Her opponent went crashing down with barely a fight as he tripped over the bindings. “Better luck next time.”

With a poof of smoke Alex disappeared from her trap. Out of automatic reflex the net shrank to hold the considerably smaller pawn snared inside. Seahry uselessly struggled against her restraints, as she continuously coughed at the smoke she had generated.

“Seahry, what…” Was all she had time to say as a blinding beam brightly shone onto where she stood. It was quickly followed by another, then several more as a ring of light from these beams surrounded her. After a brief few seconds of being dazed the masked eldrazi realized he hadn’t found the correct one yet.

With barely another thought she slipped away through the only remaining dark pocket towards the last spotlight.

~#~#~#~

This had better work. Was the common thought Alex was finding himself thinking and borderline praying. While he liked Syeahrs he didn’t like the constant games she was playing. It was time they ended.

He slid under a half bent lamppost, and leapt over a flipped car. Rain, thunder, and lightning also kept hammering his senses. More than once he had thought the game was up from a lightning strike that had removed the darkness of his hiding spot. Ah well he’s almost at his last location anyway.

He jumped the last platform. His footing slipped some on the wet surface, causing him to go down hard, but he quickly recovered and ran to the last spotlight. He could feel his heart skip a beat with his victory being only a few paces away.

A flash of red and black appeared just before he could reach his destination. Luckily his reaction time was faster than his thought process, as she attempted to fire a barrage of nets, he managed to dodge the first attacks with a dive that quickly turned into a roll that he used the momentum of to perform a handspring. Alex soon found himself in the air above his platform, with the slender figure of Syeahrs standing below looking up at him.

He remained suspended in midair for a moment, as he readied himself for the next part of his battle. In each hand he summoned his silvery rackets. The right one in his normal grip, the left in his reverse grip. They then compressed into two narrow spikes. He really hoped this plan wouldn’t backfire.

Then his descent began. Alex could feel the slight vertigo from his change in direction, a tingling sensation of electrical discharge from near by lightning strikes, and the gale that threatened to blow him off his mark.

Below him, Syeahrs fired off one spell after another. First lightning bolts sprang forth from her fingertips. Then braids of pulsating energy forming nets. And finally, clouds of sickly black smoke filled the air behind the dozens of spells she had already cast.

The lightning cracked as it sliced through the air at its intended target. Alex could smell the ozone as the attacks were directed into the rods he held. More and more of his opponent’s magical energy was absorbed with each strike. He gritted his teeth as the spikes began to burn his hands from straining to contain the ever growing power inside of them. And as the last bit of red energy was absorbed, he fired brilliant beams of white and blue light from his weapons, as if they were oversized wands. The rays pierced the nets and veil of darkness in their path till they struck at their own target.

By combining Syeahrs’ own repurposed power and Alex’s own magical energy made each stream of energy incredibly powerful, and capable of huge amounts of damage. At least they would, had they actually made contact. Instead they simply collided with some sort of domed shield that constantly protected her from his attacks. Alex was positive if he could see her face Syeahrs would be smiling at this pathetic attempt at harming her. He didn’t care though as he continued to pound the barrier with hundreds of the spells. Each one like clockwork impacting and splitting into smaller beams, to run down the edges of the shield until slamming into the ground.

“Really, is that the best you can do tonight Alex?” She called to him confidently. The beams were blinding as she struggled to see in the darkness through the light generated from his attacks. It mattered little to her though, as long as the shield spell protected her.

Then, as if he could read her mind Alex burst from the ground circumventing her barrier and stabbed her with the wand that still remained in his hand. It pierced through her back missing where her spine should be. The tip was just short of exiting her front.

“No, but I think I’ve been doing better don’t you?” Alex whispered into her ear before he fired. And even larger golden beam tore through the remaining section of flesh, and began to ricochet off the insides of the barrier. Leaving her with a choice. Hold the barrier and take continuous damage as the spell bounced around or drop it and be hit by the smaller attacks that hadn’t stopped. She didn’t even get the luxury of Alex also being harmed by his own spells since he disappeared from her presence almost immediately after firing.

The attacks seared her flesh into charred bits, only held together by magic and willpower. Light filled her vision from a new source now. While it didn’t hurt like the others, it felt far more powerful to her. Then she understood why. She was locked into place by the light and at the other end stood Alex pointing the last spotlight at her.

~#~#~#~

Soon the rain and broken landscape around them faded away into the room where their night had begun. Syeahrs stood blocking his way still to the set of doors behind her. She was also a nightmare to look at. Her costume in tatters, flesh a charred briquette, and her mask untouched. As always he couldn’t read her body language, but Alex was sure he would know how she felt when she spoke.

“You played dirty Alex!” She spit out at him in a mix of indignation and anger. And before his very eyes her wounds healed and her clothes repaired themselves without even a word. His heart sank as he new what the next words would be. Crap, she’s gonna make me keep doing this. “BUT, you didn’t cheat so you win even if it wasn’t fair. You’re free to go just pick a door and leave before I change my mind.”

His harlequin… Enemy? No that didn’t seem right. Rival, pointed at the double doors behind her. Strange, he had never noticed them before oh well. They both had a single word written on the frame above them. He quickly with barely a thought of the consequences picked the door labeled “Error” and ran through it. The world around him fell into darkness, and as his image disappeared from view Syeahrs, The Unbound Victor stared at the now open door.

“Poor boy, he has no idea what he has gotten himself into.”

The Sundering

Red diamond-shaped polygons built off of one another into three semitransparent wingshaped blades protruding from Tom’s bracelet like from a video game or an anime. The wings rotated on his cuff until finally firing three large energy chains off of the tips of the blades. Lee didn’t have time to react before the streams of flitting characters slammed into his chest violently. He howled in pain and rage, as he felt Tom forcibly rip his magic away from him. The former mage blacked out as energy rushed through the air.

~#~#~#~

“Sleep!” Leah kept yelling over and over again as she repeatedly cast the spell on the creatures as they continued to pursue her. She felt so stupid. Nick had ordered all civilians to the shelters, but there could have been stragglers stuck inside the buildings. That’s what she kept telling herself anyway. Now she found herself dodging fang and claw just to get back to the last shelter in time. At least, she hoped it was still there when she got there. So stupid!

~#~#~#~

The man-wolf watched from a distance as the blonde woman put several of his foolish younger siblings to sleep. Their transformation had only been recent so he could forgive their stupidity in attacking prey head on. They hadn’t learned how to hunt yet after all.

There was blood in the air. He could smell the tainted blood of hundreds of his kin that had been spilt, but their’s was not the only slain today. And he knew before the night was done. He would get to taste the substance at least a bit more tonight. He would kill at least this prey.

~#~#~#~

Parry, stab, dodge left, upward slash. Nick was feeling the rhythm of open battle as he defended the last shelter. He had learned the haste spell Alex had cast on him, and every time it ran out he had one of the returning Mage teams recast it. He could feel the world around him slow down as he sped up in thought and body. This must be what it felt like to have an adrenaline rush. That’s what he thought anyway.

Nick checked his list of mages still unaccounted for. Most of the surviving ones had returned at least. some better off than others, but still alive none the less. The only people not safely tucked away based on vitals were Zach, Chasity, Sandra, and… Dammit Leah. Time to hurry people along.

~#~#~#~

The beams from his data drain fractured into hundreds of strands, and went flying every which way absorbing the magical energy from everything they touched. It was overwhelming. Tom could feel the power of it all as his skin and organs felt like they were burning from it. He could see black oily bubbles start of exude from his pores like a bleeding effect from the excess magical energy building up in his body. They welled up and began to cover every inch of his being.

Then the pain got worse. His head felt like it was going to split open from a screeching sound. The Izzet mage eventually fell to his knees covering his ears as the sound got worse. Everything else began to feel distant as the bubbles encased him, and they continued to grow. He couldn’t even hope to stop the spell now.

First the ground beneath his feet gradually rose up his legs fusing with the bubbles, at his head and torso fire began to erupt from the substance around him. The heat was intense, but he felt none of it. Electricity crackled sporadically all over him, as water swirled around inside him boiling and flash freezing, and all the while his size increased to gigantic proportions. He was quickly becoming a monster. One who could feed off of the wild magic around them indefinitely, and one with no easy way to release the ever building amount already inside of him. He could feel the hunger within it, and knew this wasn’t going to end well.

Damn kid, you screwed the pooch on this one. Weaver chimed in pointing out the painfully obvious. He made him do it too. This had to be a trap. Something he had planned from the beginning, and he had walked right into it.

“Shut up Weaver, or I swear to gods I’m going to find Mr. Blueman Shoo, and I’m going to have him smite your ass.” His voice sounded garbled and alien. Like there were seven different people talking at the same time, each one with a different pitch and tone than his own. Another sign of his own transformation.

When he became bigger than the half destroyed buildings around him he then felt something new and equally horrifying. The monster he had created was built from and fed purely from wild magic and thus highly unstable. The shrieking grew louder until he just wanted to jab an ice pick into his brain to make it stop. And the creature simply exploded.

First on its left shoulder, red tendrils burst from it like pus from a boil. Each one shot out in a different direction and built off of one another in a horrifying network of vines that punctured and destroyed everything they touched. Buildings collapsed trees and pavement were torn away, and anything living was quickly skewered out of existence. Everything in its path simply died, and it was quickly spreading.

~#~#~#~

“Hurry up, we’re almost there!” Zach yelled to the two stragglers behind him as he bashed another shifter and sent a wave of pests to run interference while they escaped. They had only a couple minutes before they would be left behind, and by the looks of things there weren’t a lot of people to help them out. “I don’t know about you guys, but I have no intention of dying here!”

“We heard you! Just shut up and keep fighting already!” Sandra yelled back at him as some strange plant thing kept firing thorns at these weremonsters knocking them out. Once or twice a shifter would get to close and a second maneater plant-insect thing would jump out of no where and take a bite out of whatever got to close. That thing seriously scared him, almost as much as she did. They rounded the last corner and could see the unguarded entrance to shelter 23. They began the homestretch as the ground beneath them began to rumble, and red tendrils burst from everywhere around them.

~#~#~#~

Leah was so close it hurt. Well that and her calves from all of the running she had been doing. The werewolves and rats finally had backed off and other than a few shifters she felt home free. Although there had been a growing number of bodies lying around and not all of them weren’t human. She checked the timer on her watch. It read that she had less than four minutes to get there.

She began to panic again as she ran faster to her destination. She was focused on her goal and she was going to get there or die trying. This new found focus also came with a cost of awareness as a hidden werewolf pounced from the shadows at her. Its teeth went straight for her throat, and it would have hit its mark had she not slipped on loose debris. Instead of an instant kill it quickly adjusted thinking she had seen him coming. It swiped at her with a clawed hand that knocked her further off balance onto the ground.

Leah let out a scream of pain as she impacted with the sidewalk. Her arm hurt and was bloody, possibly even broken. Her glasses had fallen off and she could barely see the giant furry assailant looming over her, like death himself. She froze from pain and fear as the beast began to lunge again.

The attack was cut short as a figure kicked it in the jaw sending its momentum upward. Then in a fluid follow up motion, it looked like it punched the wolfperson in the chest with both fists, but then their arms slid sideways in opposite directions like a backwards scissor. And before she knew it, the severed halves of her attacker was lying of the ground in front of her.

“Here, you dropped your glasses” A familiar voice spoke to her as he handed her the lost eye wear She accepted them wordlessly and put them on to see the face of her savior.

“Thanks.” She muttered to Nick as he helped her up. He was a sight for sore eyes, but he looked horrifying covered in blood like some kind of murderer from a slasher movie.

“We need to hurry the shelters are still on a timer.”

“Okay… Ow!” As Leah tried to put weight on her left side pain flared up. The fall must have done more damage than she thought. She wouldn’t be able to walk on it, let alone run.

“No choice.” Nick grabbed her by her left arm, swung it over his shoulder, placed his other arm around her waist to support her weight, and helped her walk as fast as she could. It was helpful even if his manhandling hurt a couple of her cracked ribs.

~#~#~#~

Tom’s consciousnesses was fading. The noise had stopped, and he was feeling contently numb. He just wanted to sleep again. Wakey wakey, Wisel.

“Go away.” The chaos mage mumbled amongst explosions and flames. He was done with this mind-muppet prancing around in his brain. Fine, I guess I’ll just let your little friends get killed while you wander woods lovely, dark, and deep. I’m sure they understand. “What?” It’s a Robert Frost quote- look, I pulled it from your brain. Say it with me, Tommy, GOOD MORNING VIET-

Tom’s eyes jerked open. He could see three people quickly become surrounded by the red vascular-trails that were piercing everywhere. One of the group was lagging behind the others as she barely kept up. Soon he saw her trip on a patch of uneven pavement, sprawled out on the ground. She didn’t stop long from the fall, but it was enough as one of the red tendrils stabbed her through her back and exited through her chest lifting her into the air. One of the other party members had paused to help her but kept running after he witnessed her shishkababing. The two remaining survivors soon found their path blocked off by a sea of red. They were surrounded and there was nothing they could do to get away. One of the tendrils reared up and struck.

“No!” Tom yelled. The pointed end stopped mere inches from the male’s face, and redirected into a nearby tree. Wanting nothing more than to save them Tom poured his remaining strength into the monster. Fighting for control. It was exhausting, but soon a path opened up for them as they ran away into a nearby building. The exhaustion was kicking in again. He had nothing left to fight the creature with, as it wreaked havoc on the campus. Then he felt his mind being forced back into its recesses as something else took his steering wheel.

“Sorry Tommy, but you can’t die yet. You still have things to do, and by the looks of Razzmatazz’s escape, people to kill,” Tom’s voice spoke in a calm tone. Tom didn’t have anything left to fight him for control, but he beat his fists against the bars of his copilot’s chair. Fuck you Weaver and whatever infinite void spawned you! His voice let out a chilly laugh. “I’m sure you’ll thank me later.”

Using Tom’s body, Weaver began casting one last spell and slipped away into the time stream, taking away the burning monster’s core in his wake.

~#~#~#~

[Critical breach detected in shelters 6, 17, and, 29. No survivors detected.]

The warning repeated in Nick’s head as he ran as fast as the injured Leah would allow them, but it was getting harder and harder to find a safe path as the things destroyed everything around him. He could sense the magic of the area also disappearing. As everything they touched just lost all the magic inside of it. This place was quickly becoming a magical dead zone, and he did not want to know how it would affect him here.

“Where next?” Leah asked him not knowing the full extent of the damage and casualties yet. Nick pointed into a new direction.

“That way.” He began leading her in that direction, when a flash if an attacking tendril caught his attention. “Look out!”

Nick threw his apprentice out of the way as it tore straight through him. His previously extended right arm flailed on the ground as red fluid gushed from both his body and the removed limb. If he could feel pain he was sure that would hurt.

Having missed its target the tendril kept moving forward stabbing another tendril. Their movements were more sporadic than they used to be.

“Oh god Nick.”

“I’m okay. I have a regeneration spell active. Just grab my limb I’ll be okay in a few hours. See the blood has already stopped.”

“This is bad.” Leah was crawling towards Nick and his severed arm that laid a few feet away from him. She was also very right. There’s no way they could make it to the shelter like this. He had no choice.

“We’re going to go to shelter 14 it’s closer.”

“Isn’t it sealed?”

“No, just unstable. Meaning when we evacuate it may explode on us, but it’s that or die crawling to the last shelter that will seal in two minutes.”

“Okay where is it?” Nick with his left hand pointed to a nearby building with what looked like a cellar door.

“Over there. Let’s hurry.”

Nick struggled, eventually managed to stand back up, and helped the also injured Leah stand. With his good arm he guided her to the shelter while she held the missing one. It had taken a lot of energy to just reach the door. He hoped he could still open it.

Nick smacked the console next to the door, and while pressing the only button on it, spoke into the voice reader.

“Override authorization code Two-Two-One-Seven-Five, Board member Nicholas Huth. Confirm” seconds that felt like hours ticked by till he finally got a response.

“[Verifying.]” A synthesized female voice finally replied. Another eternity passed them by if they didn’t get inside soon they weren’t going to leave this place alive. “[Authenticated. Access granted. Welcome.]“

The door slid open to reveal a half-formed passage way below. It didn’t look safe by any means, but the growing number of murdering tendrils approaching made the decision a lot easier for them.

They made their first step inside when the monster across campus that sprouted these things wailed. And finally, what might have been its chest cavity exploded with tremendous force. Sending the last two survivors flying inside the shelter.

The timer that Nick had set for all shelters counted down its final seconds, and as zero hit they all teleported away from the battlegrounds. The explosion caused by the unstable pent up magical energy unleashed on the remnants of the campus destroying and killing anything left. Everything was immolated in the fireball that followed.

~#~#~#~

“Well that was… more exciting than expected.” The Rat finally said after reviewing the last few minutes of the video. The Rat looked over at Fallor who sat next to him. “Did you see that coming?”

“I can see the future, but that normally means sifting through the possibilities. I actually make it look a lot simpler than it really is. This was one possible outcome, but not the one I thought would happen.”

“Why not?” Was The Rat’s next question, genuinely interested in the subject at hand.

“Because Tom wasn’t likely to wake up during this. His sudden awakening changed events quite heavily. If he had stayed asleep a lot of deaths would have likely been prevented.”

“What if he had woken up before tonight, or never fallen asleep?”

“Likely he would have died in the fighting. If he never fell asleep his magical abilities would have been sorely underpowered and zazamazoo would have killed him. If he woke up just before tonight he would have tried to protect everything at one time instead of hunting Z Z Top out of rage, and again he would have died fighting him.”

“If you can only see possibilities then what’s the point of seeing the future?”

“It’s true; the future is an ever changing thing, based on seemingly random events and the choices of the people in it. But knowing the possibilities means I can guide things to the future I want. Which brings us back to the results of our little game.”

“Alright, tell me who won based off of kills and infection rate.”

“Well according to this…

Conflict and Conflagration

It was a pathetically weak attack that Tom had sent against him. Lee had believed so anyway, as he simply blocked it with his new arm. Which absorbed the magical steam and fire. It was an amusingly childish attempt to harm him. Tom was clearly angry and stupid if he believed something like this would harm a high level planeswalker like himself. The attempt was so amusing he couldn’t help but laugh at the attempt.

“Did you know Tom, that shifters are wildmagic incarnate? They can’t exist without strong magic to feed off of.”

“Ooh… top of the pyramid, I guess ‘Things a moron would say?’,” Tom spat back venomously.

“I thought you would be interested is all. I just told you something that took me months to learn. Oh well you can’t blame me for attempting to enlighten you.” Lee gave a shrug not caring one way or the other. Every word he spoke seemed to twist the screws in him a little tighter, which was fine with him. He had hoped to have a rematch with Tom after their last disastrous fight.

“No, but I can blame you for killing a whole lot of people.” Tom retorted as he began his second attack at Lee. His stone fist impacted with the ground sending a small tidal wave of concrete hands trying to grab his opponent. Lee simply summoned his scythe and slashed them in half with the blade.

“These are pathetic tricks Tom. Frankly, I’m disappointed in you, but I have grown to new levels in power so maybe your attacks are just child’s play to me now.”

Tom yelled as his rage quickly grew to new heights. “I’m going to make you pay for what you’ve done!”

~#~#~#~

This place seemed like a maze to Zach as he bashed his way through god-knows-how-many of these beasts. Another one became paste against a wall with a side swing of his hammer while barely breaking stride. Following just behind him, Chasity scribbled relentlessly in her notebook. Her spells flew every which way. Some hit Zach keeping him focused and energized while others reeked havoc on the were-whatevers that were in their way. They had to get to the infirmary and Nick only sent the two of them to help move an unknown number of patients to the shelters.

“How much further?” Zach asked in his usual loud and agitated manner. Chasity projected a small green holographic map with a red line marking their path.

“Not much further, it should be just around the next corner.”

As they rounded the final corner they saw the unmistakable door to the infirmary. The dismembered remains of dozens of werewolves and wererats littered the entrance. If they hadn’t become accustomed to the sight long ago they might have gotten sick from the sight of carnage. With barely a second thought, Zach ran over the bodies and pounded on the door.

“Hey open up! We’re here to evacuate you!” A marble sized metal sphere rolled under the door in response to the ruckus he was making. Before long it floated in the air in front of each of them scanning with a blue light. After it was complete it gave a ding of approval, and the doorway opened to reveal Sandra carrying a backpack looped over her shoulder.

“Where are the patients?” Chasity asked he nervously.

“They didn’t make it.” She muttered quietly. They were dumbfounded; there were at least a dozen here this morning.

“What about Tom?” Zach asked panicky. There was a brief flash of what might of been anger in her eyes, but it was gone before ever really registering with the two people in front of her.

“He’s fine. He woke up earlier and rushed out to help with the defense.” Zach looked relieved at the news. At least something had finally gone right for a change.

“Well we still need to get you out of here.” The red mage said next to her.

“That’s fine, I’m done here.” Sandra replied before running away with them.

~#~#~#~

He was angry. Tom had never felt such rage in his life. All he wanted to do was see Lee die for what he did. Feels good, doesn’t it? Preening bastard needs to be punished. Tom’s own voice echoed in his head. He ignored it as his razored hand parried and slashed at his scythe wielding opponent. As each second passed, he felt his anger burn hotter.

Combine them. Destroy him with everything, he insulted your abilities and is standing there believing he could be your equal. Demolish everything. Rip it all apart!

“Shut up.” He mumbled to the voice in his head as he fired dozens of silver chains at Lee, each one barbed with impossibly sharp arrowheads. Lee deflected or danced away from them. His motions were unnaturally fluid.

“You know Tom, I’ve been thinking we’ve been friends a while now so I think I’ll share something with you. I’m glad we fought. I’m glad you took my arm off. Without the loss I wouldn’t have been motivated enough to seek higher power. I’m a new man tonight Tom, and a new man deserves a new name. I’ve thought about it and Lee just doesn’t fit a mage of my power. So tonight my name and title shall be forever known as Zazzipan, Master of the Shifters.” Tom stopped for a brief moment if his blind rage at that last stupid declaration.

“Razzlebery?”

“Zazzipan.”

“Frying pan?”

“Zazzipan.”

“Marzipan?”

“Zazzipan.”

“Candlestick?”

“God Dammit Tom! You know that’s not right, you’re just doing it to piss me off!” Tom dodged a head level scythe blow and his follow-up fireblast.

“Look Zazzles, you can call yourself whatever stage name you like, but you don’t rebrand while you’re busy playing Mass Murdering Asshole on all screens Volstwide.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“You’re damn right I don’t understand!” Tom screamed as he loosed his razor chains but this time each blade also fired bubbles of liquid fire to engulf Lee. That’s my boy. String them together, the perfect weapon is alchemized from all forms of power and- “WEAVER, WILL YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP!!”

Tom screamed at the voice in his head. That last out burst just confused Lee.

“Weaver?”

~#~#~#~

In another place the battle had been heating up for hours. James had no idea how many people he had lost fighting these things, but he did know that they shouldn’t be able to keep attacking forever. James’ puppet allies clattered as they ganged up on some huge baloth had just run straight past them from another part of the battlefield. Each one stabbed, bit, or blasted merrily until the beast died.

“Where is everyone? I need back up over here!” He kept signalling but none of the response teams were answering. When finally he received a buzz in his head, an even smaller wooden ally popped its head out from the back of his shirt.

“You got a message.” It spoke in a strange gravely smoker’s voice.

“Read it to me.”

“Okay. Logos colon recall all perimeter and response teams. This is a full evacuation notice effective immediately. You have ten minutes to reach shelter 23 or we’re leaving you. That’s all of it.” James suddenly felt despair hit, sick and heavy in his chest, but he sent as many of his allies to spread the word and lead the way. James retreated back through the clearing the baloth had trampled open.

When he reached the end of the path, he found Adam’s unconscious form lying on the ground. He ran over to check for signs of life; after confirming them he grabbed his friend by the arm and, with help from his remaining puppets, carried him back to the campus.

“Adam, you are one lucky bastard.”

~#~#~#~

What’s wrong, Wisel, you running low on juice? You know what would help, don’t you? Big, tall glass of stolen life energy. Tom uppercut Lee into the air, and followed up with a barrage of flaming chainshot. Tom had little thought to spare arguing with the venom-spinning voice in his head, but found his limbs obeying smaller commands, reacting to blows before they landed.

Lee sprung back, scythe gripped too tightly in one fist. He glared, searching Tom’s defense for an opening. The pompous ‘walker was showing few signs of fatigue, and Tom could feel his limbs aching underneath the meager boost he’d been feeding them.

Wild energy, remember? This little bastard is chock full of a full-balanced breakfast in every mana food group. Tom felt his eyes unfocus, the wispy flow of mana revealed. Brilliant energy glowed everywhere, frozen in the brick, the trees… the dead bodies. Lee was a patchwork of sickly-looking colors, forced into his body somehow. It doesn’t belong to him.

Tom shook slightly, raising his left arm and sweeping it towards the building at his left. Slowly… he pointed it at Lee’s shocked face with a deep feeling of satisfaction. The phantasmal sillouette of a thick, hexagonal bracelet faded into vision on Tom’s left wrist.

“Data… DRAIN!”