About two nights after the first shifter attack, and the night after Mike and Zach’s brawl, Alex ran through the center of campus responding to the number of explosions outside Pickel Field House. Rather exhaustedly, last night Jason and Maytee had given the other head club members their accounts of the strange creatures that had attacked from the forest. Alex was relatively sure that he could handle a few of them, even some of the larger varieties that Jason had fought. Why some of them had turned to dust when killed and others remained to be devoured by their comrades had been a point of argument at the time, although it didn’t matter much in the long run. He slowed to a stop and looked around. With a few muttered words, he gathered energy and shaped it around his shoulders, drawing it to his feet. The gray trench-coat he summoned was not anything special magically, although he imagined it made his spells look much classier. He took a moment to enjoy it before running again, the coat trailing behind him.
Jason had already responded, and was waiting there for reinforcements. He jerked his head behind him as he leaned against the wide glass door into Pickel. “Bunch of them appeared inside here, weird ones. Maytee’s still beat from the last incursion, and I’m not much better off. See anyone else on the way?”
Alex shook his head, and cracked his knuckles. “Let me take a shot at ’em.” Jason rolled his eyes as Nick and Peepers ran up separately, both looking ready for combat.
“Let’s do this, right quick,” Nick said, peering through the glass door.
Tom hadn’t figured out how to slice time again. Jhoira hadn’t been able to figure out how he’d done it in the first place, but she’d managed to teach him the trick of suspending spells with little difficulty. Using mana efficiently required a lot of forethought and patience; two qualities Tom lacked discipline in. Jhoira and Tom spend any spare time coming up with ways to get the latter back to his ‘home’. After “giant slingshot” was thrown onto the table as an idea, Jhoira had shaken her head and started packing some gear.
“Stay here, practice. I’m going to go see someone who might be able to help.” She left, and the planeswalker was still alone. He sat in the dust next to Jhoira’s tower, working on gathering up mana to try suspending spells of a more powerful nature. Ever since the campus had shifted, and the magic had come to them, he felt like he’d been making spells for other people. Here, though, he could hone his own powers and talents.
He was about to release the suspend when a shadow fell over him, and a familiar voice asked “Are you enjoying your vacation?”
Tom looked up into… his own eyes, mocking him.
The four of them made their way inside to find the gymnasium full of twisting, cavorting shapes. Most of them were dark blue, thin, and had narrow wing-shapes from their backs. Nick looked in, and back at Jason.
“These look the same as the other ones?”
“No… the ones we fought were white and more… fluid looking.” He crossed his arms, looking inside again. “If you three attack, I can hold the line back here.”
Nick glanced back, and noticed that Jason hadn’t yet recovered from the last attack. He nodded, and looked at his other two allies. Alex was already drawing mana into one hand over his head, and Peepers had conjured a bright, glowing sword. Nick shrugged, and kicked the door open again, the three running inside at the unusual enemies. The sharp-looking blue fiends turned as one towards the trio, charging towards them in clouds, and Nick threw up a territory field around himself, forcing as much mana as he could into the constraints. Peepers jumped to the side, and Alex was suddenly pushed hard off his feet by a swirl of water. The territory-mage swept his hand across the oncoming horde, and the vortex of water at his feet rose into serpentine shapes twisting in midair, crashing into individual shifters as Nick stepped slowly, his mind keeping track of each water-dragon as it spiraled around him, knocking into the fiendish shifters.
Alex sprang to his feet, still holding a mass of varied mana ready to be cast, and snapped his fingers. He crushed the energy in his fist, forcing it to reform around his forearm and hand into a spiked gauntlet of silvery magic. The material massed in his fingers, forming a shaft that stretched into a wide, circular tennis racket. Alex leapt into the air, throwing a chain of mana from his bare hand at the nearest monster. As it struck, the fiend was wrapped in the chain, forced into a sphere-shape and drawn into his palm. A light toss and a sweep with the silver racket sent the bound fiend flying into a herd of its fellows, sending them flying into the air. The shifter-ball ricocheted from wall to wall, Alex redirecting it with a few precise shots into more of the creatures. Peepers managed to dodge the projectile as it knocked down the group of shifters he was cutting into, extending his sweep to catch the row behind them.
The sword-wielding ‘walker leapt up over a crowd of shifters, mana gathering at his shoulderblades, and crashed into the center of the swarm with a shockwave, knocking them in every direction. As shifters leapt up to claw at him, he spun and ducked, slicing each attacker precisely in half. The remains built up in a ring around his feet, moving slowly towards each other, and a sudden blast of water scattered the gathered shifter pieces against the wall, leaving a gap around Peepers’ feet. From the water rose one new, larger mass shaped roughly like a bound beast wrapped in reddish chains, its legs and torso locked in a metallic box. It roared, rising into the air to try smashing on top of Peepers. The mana forming at his back exploded, forming a pair of golden angelic wings arching forward, crossing over each other blocking the large shifter, pushing it into the wall hard before dispersing.
“… Come on, this shouldn’t be that hard to figure out.” Tom’s clone sat down in front of him, legs crossed. “You’re fairly smart, for a mud-raking human. You whipped me, even with a cheap shot.” Tom’s eyes widened slowly. “Mhm. You should remember.”
“Didn’t I kick your ass before?” Tom started drawing energy into his hands, sitting still. Aa’nyanhahn’zee rolled his eyes.
“Oh, come now. So what now, Tom Wisel? Are we to be two planeswalkers locked in an epic battle until Judgment Day and trumpets sound?” it asked wryly. Tom threw a sphere of fire in its eyes, which disappeared after leaving his hands. The Eldrazi smirked and started laughing. “I’m unimpressed.” It started to gather power in a raised hand, and floated into the air, cackling evilly. “Any last wor-” it started, as the sphere of fire appeared in midair, knocking the floating Eldrazi through the air. Tom rose to kneel on one knee, pressing his hand against the dirt, and pushed some of his reserve mana into the ground. Aa’nyanhahn’zee flew at him, swirling power around itself and snarling. Tom pushed off his knee, stumbling a few steps to the side as a fist of reddish rock rose from the ground, smashing the doppleganger into the air. The ‘walker scooped a small rock off the ground, palming it as he ran away from Jhoira’s tower, followed closely by the floating Eldrazi. It chanted, a burst of long, ribbonlike black arms stretching from under its sleeve and crashing into the ground after Tom, missing largely by inches. Tom circled around, dodging the hand-tipped tendrils as he made his way rapidly closer. He disappeared, teleporting above the Eldrazi and hurled the pebble at its head. The rock bounced off its forehead, and Aa’nyanhan’zee looked up at the airborne human. “Oh please…”
The spell around the pebble went off, and large boulders from under the dust rose to smash into the Eldrazi, one after another.
Nick hurled the nearest shifter into the wall with a group of water dragons, releasing them back into the spiral around his territory. “We can’t keep this up, where are they sprouting from?” His companions retreated to Nick’s side, surrounded by the shifters. Jason stood in the doorway, maintaining a simple barrier to keep the shifters from spreading.
“Split up, find the source.” Peepers manifested the angel wings again, flying into the air. With a sweep of his sword, he swooped across the gymnasium through the back doors, leading a mass of shifters after him. Nick and Alex stood back to back, the territory spell keeping the monsters from getting too close. Alex spun the silver racket in his fingers, taking a familiar stance, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, hunched over slightly. When one of the blue demonic shifters dodged the spiral of water, he clubbed it with the edge of his weapon.
“We’re way overpowered, aren’t we?” Alex glanced over his shoulder at Nick’s back. Nick nodded slowly.
“I can’t really let loose while you’re in the territory, and you can’t handle a crowd this size on your own,” Nick said, and Alex stood up, angrily.
“The hell I can’t! I may not be a planeswalker, but I can kick my share of ass, man.” Alex swung his racket, rebounding a leaping shifter into another. Nick started to object, but shook his head.
“Fine. Try and keep to the seating above the gym floor, I’m sure that they’ll follow you up there.” He started pushing more of his will into the spell, and Alex leapt over the edge of the water, his tennis shoe planting firmly into the face of a shifter. He propelled himself into the bleachers on the edge of the gym floor, then leapt over the brick wall and metal railing into the upper stands. Almost immediately, a large horde of shifters leapt up towards him. Alex spun the racket backwards in his hand, holding it like a large ukulele, and drew his fingers across the strings. A silvery arc of energy extended from his finger movement, cutting apart a good few of the demons. With each strum, he cut down more and more of the monsters as he slowly stepped backwards up the stands. The remains started to gather, first one, then five other masses. Each turned into a humanoid figure made from dark blue flesh, faces featureless and smooth. In their hands formed thick, jagged swords and plates of chitinous armor rose from under their skin. Alex paused, swearing under his breath, and took off leaping, leading the advanced shifters around the bleachers.
Nick watched Alex reach the upper tier of bleachers, and pushed everything he had into the territory spell. The water level rose, the water serpents melding into a spiral of rapids crashing around, knocking shifters off their feet and swirling them roughly into the walls and ground-floor seating. Shapes from the water rose, covering Nick’s floating body in a shield of merfolk-shapes and foam. In one hand, the ‘walker shaped a scimitar of ice, the other forming a trident. The shell of water twisted and shaped around him, resembling a merman’s tail and body, including a helmet. Nick, in merfolk-form, descended into the water and swirled against the flow of the rapids, both weapons flashing and carving apart shifter after shifter. After several sweeps through the water, Nick rose from the water, dropping the merfolk-shape shield and weapons, pushing more energy into the spell. The water flowed into the air, forming a globe above Nick’s outstretched hand. He clenched his fist, and the water compressed sharply, crushing the surviving shifters still immersed.
Tom ran through the dusty mountains, avoiding attacks and ducking behind spires rising out of the ground. He gathered as much mana as he could, tumbling behind a rock outcropping and forcing the mana into the sandstone behind him, feeling the sturdy and dry nature of the rock itself flow back into his body.
The Tom-doppleganger flew over the rock, and was surprised to see his opponent swinging a fist seemingly carved from rock into its jaw, knocking it wildly into the air.
Peepers carved through the shifters, leading the swarm down hallways. The swarm ducked around him, rushing through an open door to the outside. He snarled, racing after them, releasing his knightly sword and starting to form a new one. He crashed through the door and saw two figures carving the escaping devilish shifters apart. Maytee stood with an energy-blade in one hand, fragments of spell-armor on her shoulders and right arm. She drove her weapon between the nearest shifter’s eyes and kicked it down. The other person was wrapped in shadow and was seemingly unaffected by the attacks of the monsters, taking his time to blast them apart. Two glowing eyes peered out, and Chebon’s voice called out to Peepers approvingly.
“One second… ‘Power Overwhelming’,” he announced, and the shadows faded away leaving the caster with his arms crossed, grinning. Peepers jogged over, a katana forming in his hand.
“Situation?” Maytee asked, looking over at the open door. Peepers stabbed his sword down into the fragments of a shifter casually.
“Nick and Alex have them under control; any other outbreaks?”
“Not exactly. Some weird black shifters appeared, but we wiped them out. Did we ever figure out where these things are coming from?” Chebon asked, scanning the area quickly. Dark shadows appeared near their feet, and black shapes rose from the ground. Chebon spun around, energy formed in his fists, while Peepers and Maytee faced the ring of darkness, swords drawn.
“Abacabb!” Chebon shouted, and dark liquid swirled in his hands. He flung it at the shadowy shifters in arcs, cutting the enemies apart with the phantasmal blood. The shifters swept up, charging at the trio of casters as weapons and spells flashed. Peepers snarled, forming one angel wing to bat a hole in the encircled monsters, charging through the breach and attacking the other side of the forces. Maytee speared a shadow with her energy sword, flipping it into the air and dropkicking it into another. Steadily, as they shredded and blasted apart the shifters, more rose from beneath their feet. Chebon stepped steadily further into the mass of shadows, his Abacabb spell fading. He threw up more mana from the ground, and shouted “Idspispopd,”, sinking into the ground. The ground rumbled, and shifters flew from under the surface, wounded or shredded as they rose. Chebon flew out from the ground, weaving more energy. “Strength and Honor…” he started, blasting apart the surrounding shadow shifters with a beam of bright light. “…Cortosis”, he finished, and for a brief second, a thousand Chebons, translucent, appeared near the shadows forming around them. Each one grabbed a shifter by the neck, ripping it in half, before disappearing and Chebon reappearing, panting, in the midst of a pile of monstrous bodies. He waved at Maytee and Peepers, smiling tiredly. “What’re you two doing here, I got this. Go help someone who needs it.” The two nodded and ran back inside, while Chebon backed slowly into an open area. Shifters started to reform in the piles of corpses, and Chebon stretched, grinning. “Vergence.”
Alex jumped across the rafters, ducking razor-edged swords as the shifter-warriors followed him. He’d managed to loop one with the projectile-enemy spell, but they’d learned and started avoiding better after one was hit. He strummed the strings of the racket, sending more arcs at two of the fighters, but they merely deflected it with their armor. The younger mage slipped, falling onto one knee as the swordsmen rose and swept down at him. He winced, bringing his racket to block as many as he could, when a wall of white feathers surrounded him.
“Nick’s down, looks like. Go help him; we got this.” Peepers rose and stood next to Alex, shimmering katana drawn and facing half the shifter swordsmen. With a nod, Alex dropped from the rafter and landed next to Nick, who was sitting on the bleachers, sweating badly… or perhaps just really wet from his spell. Nick nodded, and Alex stood on guard, racket ready. The blue corpses had merged together, forming new copies of the gibbet-bound monsters that had attacked Peepers before. The chains on their torsos snapped, and large flaming hammers appeared in their clawed hands.
Peepers jumped back, sword drawn and parrying twisted sword strikes, using his wing-spell to block his back. Behind the squad of shifters, Maytee rose into the air, dragon-wing extended from her right shoulder-armor. She hurled her energy blade towards Peepers, sending it into a spiral. Peepers nodded, jumping back one rafter and hurled the katana at Maytee in the same fashion. At the same moment, each caught the other’s sword in one hand, charging forward and carving through a swordsman each, the fragments falling to the ground below. The remaining four charged, and the two casters entered battle.
Alex had blocked and sliced as well as he could, as more of the armored shifters rose up. He teleported between two, attacking both before teleporting between others, over and over, keeping their attention from his friend. A large hand rose from the masses of shredding shifters, its three fingers forming an enormous energy blast towards the young mage. He started to teleport away, but realized that the blast would go through Nick, the wall, and probably the next three or four buildings at that size. Alex took a deep breath, adopting a readied stance, and the blast went off. He spun the racket in his hands, and slammed the flat against the oncoming attack.
Tom, two stone fists at the end of his arms, pummeled the Eldrazi into the ground. The spell wore off, and the stone crumbled off his hands to the ground. The ‘walker stood over his doppleganger, exhausted from drawing mana from this parched plane. Aa’nyanhahn’zee lifted itself onto its elbows, looking up cockily at Tom. “Your momma… wears too much makeup.”
Tom snarled in response, stomping on the ground. A hand rose around the doppleganger, gripping him tightly in stone fingers. The ‘walker dug into his pockets, slowly, conjuring a needle with a crackle of energy. Without a word he stabbed the needle into the stone hand, and the doppleganger twitched, bleeding ichor into the ground before disappearing. The hand opened, revealing thousands of thin spikes extruding from the palm and fingers, dissolving into dust and landing on the ground.
Alex’s racket forced the blast to a standstill, all his strength invested in keeping it from advancing. He felt something inside him shatter, and suddenly the blast shot backwards, smashing back into the disembodied arm and dissolving it, the remains of the other shifters, and most of the gibbet-bound shifters. As he took a breath, he felt the whole world throw him into the air into darkness. He opened his eyes, on his stomach with his gauntlet and racket missing. He stumbled to his feet and rubbed his aching right arm, looking around the surroundings. A group of kobolds in the distance looked back, and it appeared to be a mountain ridge. He blinked, and suddenly heard Tom’s voice from somewhere, as if from another room.
“…from my plane, I can go home now…”
Alex blinked, and was back in the campus gymnasium looking at the piles of shifter dust. He frowned, and fell backwards asleep.