James ran through the woods, agile wooden ally puppets racing around him. The rats might have disappeared, but more reports of attacks in the forest still meant more fighting. Behind him, two of the mages that could be spared were racing after him with the benefit of a group speed boost spell. Chasity was close behind him, a small bag over one shoulder with books poking out the top opening. At her side was a young woman with long blond hair in a white polo shirt, jeans, and sensible shoes named Leah. Chasity’s arms were wrapped with green lines of light, “knots” of energy forming along the lines, and Leah’s fists glowed with white and grey as she ran next to Chasity. James slid to a stop, the whole group slowing down around him.
“I’m going to throw up a Safety Dance; Chasity, what have we got?” The knots along her spell opened, stretching into open blooms, and Chasity shut her eyes.
“I’ve got… ” she trailed off, and started a back and forth pendulum-motion in the air with her fingers. “…Twenty shapes northwest, a whole lot more to the north.” James listened as he hummed to himself, spinning slowly and throwing energy at each of his four puppets in turn. Each one began moving on its own, circling around the three mages with their torsos held rigid, arms moving seemingly at random. Chasity sat on the ground, her spell-lines extending and twisting, facing the flowers around for a better view. Leah stood to the side, pale light emitting from her hands on the other six figures in her party.
“Yep. Lots of them to the north. Fifty, sixty… bunches.” Chasity opened her eyes, her spell receding back into the ‘sleeve’ shape. “You think we can take them on?”
“Sure. If we have to, we’ll call up some more Allies, but we should be fine.” James grinned at both girls, and scratched his scalp. His battle outfit, so to speak, was a loose shirt and jeans and sandals. Not as special-looking as Maytee’s or Joe DiCianni’s spellarmors, but it fit him. Bards can’t wear anything but light armor, anyway; James was a bard through and through. Leah spoke a quiet word, and a faint outline appeared around her wrist, tying her to similar bracelet-shapes around James and Chasity’s right wrists. The woods were dark, and noises were moving closer.
“Ryuzaki,” Leah cast, suddenly, and a network of gray lines sprouted from her palm, sparking out into the trees. Faint glowing shapes were revealed; vaguely humanoid and approaching slowly. James pulled his hands together, whispering in rhythm. “Armagh”, he cast, throwing energy up above him. Weapons flew from thin air, swords, spears, a shield, arming the Ally Puppets with shining metal. From the shadows, the glowing figures could be made out to be large versions of the white Shifters, made of hollow cloth and bits of metal. Some held twisted spears, others grasped several thin swords. None approached, the masses circling around slowly. Chasity focused, and the lines wrapped around her arms sprouted up, dancing through the air, and over a dozen lines stretched out, tipped in piercing flower-buds, jabbing into a shifter each before shrinking back or dissolving into their original state. The ring of shifters either turned to devour their fallen brethren, or charged. James cursed and waved an arm ahead of him. “Pellinore!” Copies of the Ally Puppets appeared, sprouting wooden copies of the Armagh weapons. With about eight puppets, James was able to keep the swarm of Shifters from approaching further. “Ladies, anytime?!”
Leah closed her eyes, extending one shimmering finger and traced a shape in midair. “Ryuzaki, Hideki, Kappei.” More subtle, gray lines sprouted from her drawing and twisted themselves around the shifters, weaving around the whole swarm. Once in every few Shifters, one would turn and start attacking its fellows, consuming it quickly. Chasity stood in the center of the defense ring, drawing two large books from her bag. She held one in each hand, muttering under her breath before shouting. “Kountz, Readman, Sic em!” The lines around her arms spread down, coursing over the books’ covers, and an explosion of green lines poured from each book to slam into nearby Shifters, spreading wildly and weaving through seemingly at random. Many of the shifters dropped and Chasity slumped slightly. Dark lines appeared under the skin on her arms like bruises, shadowing the pattern of the spell-vines as they reformed to normal position.
“Overdid it a bit… Give me a second..” Chasity muttered, kneeling down. James swiveled his head.
“Incoming,” Leah said suddenly, and stepped closer to Chasity’s position.
Tom stared, forlornly, at Quyzl’s Guide to Temporal Physics (and Advanced Tense Formation). “I don’t believe it. You really… really did write the book on time maniupulation.” Quyzl twiddled his mustache, pleased.
“Oh yes, quite. In fact, this is still one of the only tomes to contain the Ninth Person charts still in use.” He pointed the chart itself out.
“What… what is the ninth person?” Tom asked, feeling a little dizzy.
“It’s for Future-Past Future Proxoaxidecimal Form, and a must for traveling through time.” They had moved from the sewers to the Izzet League’s library in Nivix, the guildhall. Tom had acquired an Izzet jacket, with several brass pipes woven through the leather and copper plates. He liked how it fit.
“Quyzl, my mind can barely take the three people I’ve already got in here,” the planeswalker laughed. “How long do you think it’ll take to get back to my own time and place?”
The Izzet mage thought to himself, taking the book and flipping through it for reference. “If we work hard, get a good grasp on the fundamentals, and isolate your probability state, maybe… two years?” Tom slumped in his chair.
“Wow. That’s… a long time.” He glanced up, and behind Quyzl stood Aa’nyanhahn’zee in his shape as Tom’s doppleganger. Tom froze, and the Eldrazi shook his head, laughing. “Quyzl… turn around.” The Eldrazi started to disappear as the older mage turned, confused.
“Is something there?” He peered through colored lenses, shrugging. Tom scowled.
“There was… I’m hoping that somehow we can get finished sooner rather than later. I really don’t have two years to spend.” At this, Quyzl looked amused.
“This is time travel, young ‘walker. You have all the time you require.” Tom nodded, and Quzyl handed him a stack of books. “This should be enough to get started. I’ll get the paperwork to register you as an Izzet guildmage until you finish your studies.” Quyzl smiled and walked over to a large, circular desk in the middle of the large library. A voice behind Tom spoke up.
“How long, really, before you have to face me again? Just think… how much would be destroyed if you remain in such a crowded place.” The Eldrazi was sitting in the chair next to the ‘walker, hands folded pleasantly on the desk. Tom narrowed his eyes.
“Try it. There’s some of this world’s strongest mages here; even too much for an eldritch jerk like yourself,” Tom hissed, leaning back. The Eldrazi laughed, and faded away.
The circle had been broken, and puppets flew in combat around the trio of mages. Chasity struck out with flower-tipped vines drilling into shifters who grew too close, each attack taking more out of her reserves. James was focused on pumping his puppets full of boosts and energy. Leah, as the only mage uninjured or free to pay much attention, was burning juice at an alarming rate. Each spell was casting more translucent lines around the enemy, slowing them down, making them glow brighter. She gritted her teeth, rose up on her toes, and held her palms forward. “Lawliet!” She suddenly felt the magic in her hands sweep down through the bracelet and lines connecting her to James and Chasity, feeling a faint pressure on her mind from both of them. “Lawliet, Ephedra, LaRig Geam!” Her spells, woven across the whole battlefield, flashed as energy rushed from the loose magic in the air, surging through her palms and charging through the link to Chasity and James, pumping them full of raw magic.
“Wow… much better.” Chasity stood up, the bruises along her arms gone, and whipped out a flowered vine at a Shifter, cleaving it down the middle. James’s chanting increased, and the puppets glowed red-hot as they fought. Suddenly a blast of flame charged through, engulfing each puppet and incinerating it. James winced with the fall of each puppet, and the three mages took off running through the trees.
“There’s too many, we need somewhere to defend!” James scanned the area in the dark, dodging trees. The two girls cast as they could to pick off any Shifters making it too close, green flashes and silver light crashing into them. James slowed down as they came to the edge of the cliffs. He turned, and Chasity waved her hand. “Shiara, Suz, Daystar.” Thorns glittering with green sparks rose up, forming a thin wall between the oncoming shifters and the mages.
“Well… we can’t lead them into campus…” James said quietly. He shrugged. “Any ideas?”
Leah shook her head, and Chasity maintained the thorn wall. James sighed.
“Well, we’ve got nothing left to lose. I’m going to use… the power of song.” James stood up taller, and Leah looked at him strangely.
“You’re… what?” she asked, and James took a deep breath.
“It’s astounding… time is fleeting… madness takes its toll,” he started singing at the top of his voice. The shifters scratched hard at the thorns, attacking it with their weapons harder. “But listen closely…”
Tom stared at the formulas for spells he already knew he could cast; Quyzl had explained that only by understanding how magic worked at a basic level could he attempt to get back home. He closed his eyes, and found himself humming a familiar song.
“I remember doing the Time Warp, drinking… those moments when,” he sang softly, building in intensity.
“The blackness would hit me,” James shouted, pouring every ounce of bardic magic he had into the words.
“And the void would be calling,” Tom sang out, standing up as energy built up around him.”
Quyzl came over, worried, and wondered where the ‘walker had gone now.
Chasity winced as the thorn wall started to fail and an enormous burst of power pulsed through the area, followed by the sound of air being displaced as if by a teleportation spell. There was no spell she’d heard of, though, that required so much air being pushed away. Leah and Chasity turned towards James, confused, as a familiar voice sang out.
“Let’s do the time warp again!” Tom sang, wearing a strangely tubed jacket and with a big grin on his face. He blinked, looking at the three mages, and laughed. “Oh… no way.” He hugged Chasity, then Leah, then grabbed James and squeezed him tight. “How the hell did that work?” James grinned, his body vibrating with energy, and he shrugged.
“I… dunno, it just felt like something that might help.” He paused. “The weird thing is, I don’t know that song.”
“I’ve never heard that song before.” James shrugged, and Tom patted his shoulder.
“Magic, got it.” He turned, looking at each spellcaster next to him. “Situation report?”
Leah covered one eye with her hand, fingers glowing. “Lawliet… thirty Shifters incoming, maybe some new ones.”
Tom narrowed his eyes. “So… what’s a shifter?” James bounced from foot to foot, feeling pent up and charged with power.
Chasity opened a book, looking down at it, and pointed at Tom’s forehead. “Epistolary.” Letters and numbers swirled from the page, feeding themselves along Chasity’s finger into Tom’s head. He winced, holding his head and swearing under his breath.
“Exactly when did explaining things go out of fashion? How long have I been gone?”
The mages looked at each other.
“Um, about two months?” Leah said, uncertain. Tom narrowed his eyes, glancing at the thorn wall.
“Those things the shifters? Ugly britches, aren’t they? Anyone got a soda?” James disappeared, with a crack of air, and reappeared with a foreign-looking metal can in one hand, wide eyed. Tom took the can, cracking it open and chugging it down. “When’d you become a planeswalker, James? Imagine, huh, there must be around three or four by now.” He winced, tasting the fluid. “Ugh. Root beer.” He turned, breathing slowly, towards the vine wall behind which a crowd of various shifters piled up, ripping open parts of the thorns. Tom pointed forward with the hand holding the root beer, chanting casually. “Vibro-oscillation, compression, bifurcation.” He swept the finger in an arc along the barely contained shifters, sparks of blue and red light forming along his hand, merging into a single point of energy, and a thin beam shot forward, cutting through each shifter like a knife through butter. Tom released the spell, took another gulp of root beer with a grimace, and handed the can to Leah. “I’m going to need nine cans of cherry soda, three fantasy novels, about four hours of sleep, and…” he passed out standing up, falling into James’s arms heavily.
Chasity looked down at the unconscious planeswalker, and up at her two companions. “What the hell?”