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.

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