Friday, December 27, 2013

Return to Argentum: 12

“What is that?” Ezuri demanded, cocking an ear before effortlessly springing to an even higher branch. He peered through its twisting spines with suspicious, glittering emerald eyes.
“It’s a human girl, and a golem,” his lieutenant replied in a fatigue-laced monotone, from several feet below.
“Ah yes, I see it now. Well, it could have been… well, dammit Laszon, it could’ve been… Why must you be so dirgelike all the time?”
“You meant to say, ‘Laszon, why must you be right all the time,’” the lieutenant smirked. Ezuri looked down at his childhood friend and laughed despite the insubordinance. Laszon sat with one leg slung over the other, arms crossed, in the crotch of the tree. His burnished blond hair hung smugly over his shoulders in straight plaits. Laszon had barely even glanced up to get a glimpse of the intruders. His eyesight was renowned amongst the Tangle elves.
“She’s quite pretty, for a human,” Ezuri said without thinking, then rolled his eyes at his own mistake when Laszon’s scornful snort reached his ears.
“Yes, yes, Ezuri. If you like plump and brazenly colored little piggies, that is.”
“Better that than a cadaverous siren with oil running through her veins,” Ezuri said, his gaze still on the approaching intruders. Laszon’s dalliance with the lich was even better known than his superior eyesight. The fairer-haired elf grunted and the ensuing silence told Ezuri that he’d won the banter-field, for now…
“Halt,” he called down to the girl and her golem.
The girl’s head snapped up with a feral quickness that pleased Ezuri. She stabbed a finger upwards in his general direction--amusing since there was no way she could see him through the murk.
“No, I won’t!” the girl shouted up at him. “You must be Ezuri. I won’t halt, I’m coming in, and you’re going to help me stop Liliana!” she marched toward the tree trunks, golem in tow. Ezuri’s jaw dropped in surprise. Before he could muster a word, he was preempted by his lieutenant’s somnambulant chuckle.
“This promises to be interesting in the worst way,” Laszon yawned.


Both clad in the roughed-up finery of her ex-lover, Liliana and Venser were sticky with sweat and breathing hard. Fissures had opened up in the work area and spouted steam at regular intervals, covering them in musty-smelling moisture. Every now and then the ground would tremble and send Venser’s tiny tools rolling and clattering around, and since the artificer’s hands were always entangled with The Contraption In Progress, it fell to Liliana to dart after precious implements on hands and knees, scuffing her skin and releasing a barrage of curses vehement enough to scour every demon from the Multiverse.
“As if this dress wasn’t awful enough!” she shouted after one particularly challenging recon, during which a file had rolled into a crevice and been snapped up in the jaws of a blistergrub hatchling. She’d managed to yank the creature out by its leg, but it wouldn’t drop the file. The blistergrub had met an unglamorous end on the wrong side of Liliana’s foot. Its dying revenge had been to splatter the contents of its body precociously upon the black mage. Venser glanced up briefly to see his companion clutching a fistful of silver tools, her wine-red dress defiled up to the waist in ochre goo. Her eyes were so dark they seemed on the verge of smoking, and her lips were pressed into a pale line of rage.
“You could always just take it off,” Venser heard himself mumble. Realizing what he’d said, he quickly looked back down at the filament he was shaping with tiny tweezers. He furrowed his brow in concentration. Liliana was silent, and he waited for something awful to happen to him.
But it didn’t. She laughed. “I’m pretty sure I heard what you said, but I’m too damn tired to find out for sure,” she sighed, plopping down on the stone next to him. “Besides, I know you only hate this dress because the fabric was Jor’s.”
She lay back and closed her eyes. “I’m just going to hold these thrice-damned tools for you till you’re done. I’m sick to death of chasing them. Why don’t you have a proper belt or box for them, anyway? Look at me. ‘The Great Liliana Vess’—reduced to a raggedy artificer’s human toolbox.”
Venser reached over and slid the tweezers into her outstretched fist, carefully removing delicate pliers instead.
“Ugh, I have to get you a real toolbox. This is too much intimacy for me,” Liliana chuckled.
A geist of a smile passed across Venser’s face and then was gone, supplanted by the perma-shadows under his eyes and the stubbornly tense line between his brows. The ground trembled and this time it was the artificer’s turn to swear, as the jolt caused him to accidentally bend a smooth curve on The Contraption into an ugly sharp-angled twist.
“I had no idea this location was going to be so unstable,” Liliana said. “The hot parts of this skrat-hole plane must be moving around because of the mana shortage.”
Venser nodded without saying anything. It had almost sounded like she was apologizing. Sweat rolled in plentiful rivers down his temples as he struggled to repair the damaged curve.
“Take a break, godsdamnit, you’re going to pass out.” Liliana moved the tools away from his reach. When he didn’t answer, she raised her voice. “Venser. I said, take a break. Now.” The change in her tone did it—as it should—after all, he was still technically indentured to her. Robotically, the artificer stopped working and rocked back on his heels to lower himself to seated position.
“Here,” Liliana said, pulling a large vial out of her bag and thrusting it at him. He flinched. He’s scared of me, Liliana realized, and her outstretched hand flagged in the air an imperceptible amount. “It’s just water!” she snapped. He took the vial quickly and Liliana lay her head back down on the unaccommodating stone. She was really, very much tired.
Steam sissed all around them and they coughed in unison, struggling with the stench. Liliana rolled over on her side and was too fatigued to move even though a rock was poking her in the ribs. Venser had laid his head down on his folded knees.
“Will you be done tonight?” she finally asked, as much to break the silence as to actually see if they were on schedule.
“You look ridiculous in those pants.”
“Jor was a lot shorter than me.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
Liliana had expected him to ignore her again, but this time, she heard muffled chuckling from the general vicinity of Venser’s head. As far as she could recall, it was the first time he’d laughed at one of her jokes. His head was still down on his arms, but she could see his shoulders twitch. Liliana smiled.
A sound like a hot coal hitting water made Liliana twist to her feet, eyes searching the murk. Venser crouched beside her, murmuring a spell. A flaming pebble bounced down the slight incline to come to rest, gleaming with stoked-up power, near Venser’s foot.
“Oh shit,” the artificer said.
Then the ground lurched, magma jets erupted all around, and they both screamed.

Nicol Bolas did not much enjoy flying anymore. Treetops seemed to always be a little too close to his tender parts, threatening the sanctity of his armpits or “the family hoard” as dragons call it. He was ticklish, and thinking of branches touching him made him shiver. And, being as grandly endowed as he knew he was, there was always the risk of getting a turntimber splinter or the like caught somewhere extremely unpleasant.
Bolas sucked in and tried to gain a little elevation on a gust.
Theros was a provincial piece of skrat-backwards life, but it did have lovely breezes. And he was here on business, anyway, so no use wasting brainpower dwelling on the annoying treetops nor the barely sapient neighbors. Not like he was moving in.
The smell of Akros wafted up to him. It was drier, less floral, and slightly less putrid than Meletis. Next was the familiar rank of Deathbellow Canyon, and Bolas flirted with the idea of swooping down to see if he could grab a minotaur or two on the fly. He generally insisted on sitting and enjoying his meals, but Felhides had such a nice crunch and rounded umami to them—mushroomy, with a hint of garlic and anchovy—that he might make an exception…
No. Haste was of the most importance this visit. Bolas scowled and flew on, drooling.
“Enter,” said the voice. It was thin and reedy, like someone was making a half-assed attempt to play a flute. The building reeked to high heaven of incense and ink. Bolas masked his disgust in draconic, bored stoicism and with an eye half-lidded in extreme disinterest, wedged his snout and half his forehead through the open double doors. He peered with disinterest into the vaulted hall of a Phenaxian temple. A ghostlike figure clad in a swirl of sheer fabric hovered above the dais. Corpses of priests littered the floor.
“Ashiok,” said Bolas in greeting. The planeswalker gestured to the figures on the ground.
“Hungry?” she wheezed liltingly.
“If I was, I’d start with you. I’ve seen the humans do something very innovative with a lobster. They cut the shell open while leaving the head still attached, and eat the meat from the body as it still lives, using the creature’s own carapace as the serving platter.”
The breezy planeswalker ignored his threat. “Did you bring it?” Ashiok said, wafting over closer to the dragon’s muzzle. Bolas had to exert extreme control not to gag. In reality, eating Ashiok was probably the last thing he’d choose to do in this life or any other. He could tell from her scent that she would taste like mothballs and desiccant with a few maggots on the side—and cardamom. He hated cardamom.
Bolas blinked, and a box appeared before the planeswalker. She reached down eagerly and opened the lid, the updraft emanating from her head grew stronger for a moment and the gossamer scarves wrapped around her face feathered upward in pleasure. Her mouth changed, perhaps in the way that a statue’s might imitate a smile—it could have been a trick of the eyes, or a deepening shadow, or nothing.
“In return I’ll make sure the walker’s further ascension is secured, as promised.”
“My people are about to succeed on Argentum. They will succeed on Ravnica next. I don’t want complications with that walker. They cannot afford any distractions.”
“Nyx is a demanding mistress. The walker will be, literally, out of reach.”
“And if not, lobster will be within mine.”
“May the Gods bestow upon your next journey, Great Bolas.”
“Farewell, Ashiok.”

The Contraption In Progress was starting to roll slowly down the rough slope.

Catch it!” Liliana ordered Venser as she tried to sift black mana from the terrain without panicking. Red, red, red—damn the color, it was everywhere—hot, sticky, and useless. Venser turned and extended a hand toward their precious construct, his fingers glowing white, but a blast of fire—no, a thing of fire crashed into him from the side and leveled the artificer to the ground like he was a trampled daisy

“This insanity is at an end!” boomed a voice from above. Whoa, bet this one’s hot as his mana Liliana thought, in spite of the situation. She knelt to help Venser and craned her neck for a glance at their assailant. She was right. A muscle-bound walker with skin the color of Syndicate cocoa had both huge fists raised. They glowed with his furious command of the substantial red mana around them. Augmentations of rock and ore textured his scalp and coursed up his calves and forearms. Yep, a real sizzler Liliana smirked to herself as she slapped Venser across the face. He came to with a frown.

“Shut up, lucky for you I cast that slapstick cutthroat bullshit right before you got hit. Knew it from an ex. Real loser. Good trick, though,” Liliana was talking leagues a second and pointed downslope at The Construct. “Can you catch it now, big boy?” Venser snapped his fingers and the intricate artifact disappeared from existence, just as a barrage of firey slag passed through the place it had been only a fraction of a second ago. Holding Venser up with one arm, Liliana snaked her other out towards the red walker, swearing like a pirate.

“Didn’t know you could cast spells just by invoking those parts of the female anatomy,” Venser mumbled groggily.

Liliana laughed as a sinewy, pallid arm broke through the metallic ground and wrapped its fingers around the red walker’s leg. Half a breath later the grey-skinned zombie was fully emerged and had clamped its ruined teeth into the coffee-toned skin of their attacker. Liliana sighed in pleasure. Flicking her wrist, a flaming entity appeared from the air behind the red mage and immediately disappeared in a black pouf.

“Knew it. His fire thrall he had stowed was giving his guys speed. That’ll slow ‘em down.” The necromancer freed her arm from Venser and twisted her fingers, weaving something noxious into existence as she simultaneously mouthed words that caused the red walker’s spells to cease before they were even cast.
Venser unsteadily stood on his own. The Construct blinked back into view, at the top of the slope, and began rolling downhill again.

A skeletal panther suddenly dashed at Liliana and the large frog she’d summoned hopped in front of her, took the blow and croaked. Liliana separated the panther’s head from its body with a dark blade that appeared from nowhere, but the cat’s attack had given the magma mage time to cast. He spread his hands and the ground beneath them split in a deafening roar. Venser leapt over the fissure to Liliana’s side and they crashed into a boulder amidst aftershocks.

“Ouch,” Liliana groaned, but as she did she ripped the red walker’s next shattering spell before he could access it. “Ha! Take that, courtesy my frogger!” she yelled. The Construct continued to roll unharmed down the slope. Liliana made a show of sighing. “So predictable! Firestarters all use the same—”

“Artificer!” the voice boomed from the high ground. Venser snapped his fingers again, and the rolling construct disappeared. Then he stood up, and to Liliana’s surprise, gave her a stern stare and put his finger to his lips. She shrugged and inclined her head slightly.

“Koth, is that you?” Venser shouted back, eagerness lacing his voice. Liliana’s eyebrows raised in surprise. Better actor than I would’ve guessed she mused, suppressing a chuckle and piecing together mana to boost her vitality back up to an acceptable level.

“Why have you taken up with this evil, Venser? I thought you a defender of Mirrodin, of right! I thought you my brother, and Elspeth’s friend—”

Elspeth. That name again. Wonder what she is to Venser, really. Liliana quietly tore fabric from her horrid gown to bind a deep cut just above her knee. She undid the laces on the dress so she could breathe better.

“I can’t stay out of trouble, Koth. They came for me just like you did.”

The silence told Liliana that Venser had struck a nerve. Finally the red walker answered.

“What’s her status?”


“Your vile companion lying there, pretending to be harmless.”

How dare he Liliana fumed, insulting my acting skills! She gave an indignant look to Venser, who peered down at her coldly.

“She’s fettered,” was his terse reply. The Contraption blinked back into view, reset at the top of the hill, and at the same time, softly luminescing strands of white appeared—and tightened—around Liliana’s wrists and ankles.

“What—” she shrieked. Venser grinned down at her and snapped his fingers, and their cage that would hold suns and change worlds blinked out one more time.

Glissa hated the Machine Orthodoxy with a passion. Well, with what was left of any passion that had once inhabited her heart. She hated them even more now that they were winning the field despite having only this “priest” at their helm and not the vaunted Elesh Norn, recently presumed dead and hatless.

Glissa herself had slaughtered too many ceramic-heads to count, but with each skirmish the alabaster toxins of the Orthodoxy infected deeper into her troops. The Viridians and Auriok had weakened, then began to falter... in spite of their conviction and devotion to their commander.

“Goblins say, ‘he who never gives up laughs last.’” Slobad’s hand pinched her ear as he said this, to make his point

“I’m not a goblin,” Glissa murmured, trying to look for weaknesses in the enemy’s formation as her line was pushed back another beast-length. Her eyes were drawn to the green sun, so far away and so low in the sky it was nearly invisible in the clutches of the Tangle. Its light was the color of vomit. There was no life in it.

Realizing with horror that she was staring at the horizon while her troops were dying, Glissa gritted her teeth and drew her sword and dagger again.

“I think this is it,” she said quietly to Slobad’s hand. Her head felt strange, as if it was full of cold mist. She vaguely recalled having bizarre dreams of some sort, long ago, before her compleation. Now, as her eyes caught again on the dying sun, words seemed to be forming within the mists of her mind. It was a choir of whispers, at once lilting and brusque, and for a moment the green sun wavered and in its place she saw an elvish sigil—a proud profile, high-helmed, on a field of white. She struggled to breathe as prayers she didn’t know choked her throat, each fighting to be invoked, to be breathed to life in this strange abomination of a world. 

Glissa raised her arms to the colorless sky. She inhaled, and instead of the dank air of New Phyrexia, scents—barley, pine, winter sage, arbor roses—rushed up to greet her. In her mind’s eye she saw six-pointed red leaves sinking into mud that was as dark and rich as iron ore. She heard the hoofbeats of steeds, but knew they were all shades of gray and brown, not chrome. The thundering of the herd reverberated up her spine. A gust brought a cascade of cherry blossoms that smelled sweet as sleep. It wrapped her body in a fluttering cloak the color of blushing snow. A horse’s whinny. Then, a soft laugh, and she felt the brush of fingertips on her neck, a gentle whisper at her ear. In her mind’s eye she saw cherry blossoms land atop the red leaves in the mud, cradled perfectly. The sharp scent of crushed grass reached her, and then, she heard herself laugh, too.

Glissa lowered her arms. “Slobad, hold on… ” She stepped toward the edge of her vantage point.

“Whoa now, what happened to you! Your eyes kinda like, on fire, but you know, greenish—”

“Slobad, hold on, okay? Promise.”

“Uh oh, I know that look—now think justa minute, you hold on, be calm and listen to Slobad, crazy el—!”

“One bone broken for every twig snapped underfoot.” Glissa leapt, blades spinning as she fell towards the battlefield, a green star above a field of artificial white.


Liliana could not believe what was happening. She watched as Venser and the red walker clasped hands and then did some kind of extended faux-brother-hug that made her want to throw up. Sure, she’d give Venser the benefit of the doubt for a few more minutes, just in case he really was a lot cleverer than she gave him credit for, but she was still pissed. He could have told me. Liliana feigned indifference as she fumed at the fetters, her hands and feet bound very ungraciously. She could do something about that, of course, but thoughts of what she’d do to Venser if this was a true betrayal were much more fun to think about. So she lay on the rubble and tried to look helpless while weighing classic evisceration versus “reverse evisceration” for Venser... the latter of which was actually the trend amongst elite necromancers, being less messy and, for the evisceree, possibly more painful (that aspect was still being tested). Gods, Venser and “Koth” were talking a long time.
“Liliana? Liliana.”
She blinked. Griseldamned, did I doze off? Venser was leaning down over her. She resisted the urge to headbutt him in the balls, and narrowed her eyes instead. He winced and held up both hands, glancing back over his shoulder and speaking quickly.
“Koth is looking for the construct down there. I let it roll when it blinked back in, told him I was too exhausted to control it. He’s always thought of me as physically unsound.”
“Why didn’t he just blow it up already?” Liliana hissed.
“I told him it would explode and kill him, and that I had a better option.”
“So he’s corralling it and you’re supposed to grab me and meet up with him to handle it?”
“So grab me already.”
Venser sighed. Liliana’s goblin-tailored dress had moved all over the place during the battle and a lot of her was sticking out where it shouldn’t be. He chanced glancing at her face and regretted it—she was grinning with sheer, evil pleasure at his predicament. Venser clenched his jaw and reached down for her. He slid his hands under her body and felt the undone laces of her dress. His fingers pressed against the bare skin of her back as he lifted her. He kept his eyes in the vicinity of anywhere but her, but he still noticed that the high slit of the dress had crept up all the way to near her waist, and that the entirety of her left breast was precariously close to making a marquee appearance.
“Yawgmoth,” he muttered. “Okay, you have to look unconscious.” He shifted his arm to bring her head higher up on his shoulder so he could whisper to her without it looking suspicious.
“Like this?” Liliana lost consciousness so quickly that Venser startled, thinking she’d fainted. But then one amethystine eye opened, and the rosy lips curved up. Venser shook his head and started picking his way awkwardly down the rocky incline. He kept an eye out for Koth while he spoke.
“I assume you know some kind of siphon spell.”
“Do I look like the type who runs with vampires?”
“I assume you’ve been with at least one, and that you ripped every spell from his bloodthirsty mind that you could, before you disposed of him.”
“Of her,” Liliana whispered confidentially. Venser tripped, then tightened his hold on her in what was an approximation of a threatening grip.
“Quiet. You’re going to get us killed. Koth is in his element here… literally.”
“Just one thing: can you squeeze my ass a little harder?” Liliana hissed before she collapsed in a rumpled heap of damsel against his chest.
There was no response. Venser checked his grip—his hand was nowhere near her butt, but he adjusted his hold on her anyway. He wished he had a hand free to punch himself in the face. Focus. Koth really will kill her. And me. Venser kept his eyes on the steam at the bottom of the slope, lowering his head just slightly to give his last instructions to the necromancer.
“Cast it—on meas soon as I set you down. I’ll do the rest,” he murmured into her hair. A fragrance of lotus and musk was all the answer he got.
With Venser’s next step, the statuesque outline of Koth appeared in the murk ahead.
Behind him loomed the Construct.
“That took awhile,” Koth said. Venser forced himself to walk forward without hesitation.
“She’s heavier than she looks,” he laughed, greeting Koth with a rueful grin. “And, she tried to bite me.”
“Sleep spell?” Koth asked, nodding toward the necromancer.
“Hit her with a rock,” Venser replied. Koth recoiled in horror, looking askance at Venser and taking in the half-dressed woman in his arms with a look of disgust. Venser checked a sigh. Yes, Koth, it’s really me, your old buddy Venser the Rapist. Venser let himself roll his eyes for Koth’s benefit.
“Joking aside, she’s much more powerful than she looks. And you were trying to crush her with slag back there! Or was that aimed exclusively at me?” Venser moved to an area of rock that looked slightly less hard than the rest and made to dump Liliana unceremoniously on the ground.
Koth cleared his throat. Venser made a show of looking up, raising an eyebrow, and then, apparently acquiescing to Koth’s superior chivalric notions, squatted down and laid their prisoner gently on the rubble.
“There is a great difference between felling a competent foe in the heat of battle, regardless of gender, and retaliating against a bound and helpless prisoner. Regardless of… gender.” Koth trailed off as he regarded Liliana’s prone form, the eyefull of her gender apparently compromising his speech faculties.
“Got a knife?” Venser said. Koth smoothly flipped him one from a thigh holster. Venser caught it and knelt back down. He sliced through the strap on Liliana’s bag and pulled it free of her shoulders. Standing, he tossed the knife back to Koth and rattled the bag around gleefully.
“Won’t be needing this anymore!” He took a few steps to the left, where a fissure started to widen and the vapors that emanated from it were tinged with chartreuse and tiny sparkling motes.
“What are you doing?” Koth said, resting his hands on his belt.
“You ever been tortured?” Venser said. “I know you and I’ve had our differences, but you should’ve seen that bitch work on me with these.” He held up a fistful of glittering silvery implements. “I hate this plane. All I ever get here is more goddamned pain.”
Koth’s look was grim. He nodded slightly in empathy.
“Good artificers always recycle,” Venser said, holding out the instruments over the fissure with a shaking hand. He could sense the flow of colorless mana and pulled at it, wrapping it around his heart. “I’ll just let the Core burn up all the bad memories.” With a victorious nod at Koth, Venser opened his fist.
The tweezers, pliers, and all of his other precious artifact tools fell straight to New Phyrexia’s Core.
Venser counted heartbeats. He knew how far it was to the center of Mirrodin. At the exact time he’d predicted, he felt a surge of vitality effuse through his body. The plane had accepted his sacrifice.
Koth, on the other hand, was on his knees. “You… little… worm—” he began, before collapsing face first on the ground. He didn’t so much as twitch.
“What was the name of that one?” Venser called over to Liliana as he stared down at the vapors that had swallowed the precious silver pieces of his livelihood.
“Sanguine Bond,” she said, and then, “I think my breast just fell out of my top.”

My captain.
I fear you’ll take offense at that greeting, as you are very much not mine. Certainly, you will take offense and your eyes will flash like blades of obsidian. Surely, you must take offense so your lips will purse in an exasperated exhalation that you think I cannot hear. If it is in your heart, please take offense at this poor salutation so these last images I have swirling about in my degrading mind will be truth, and not the pathetic dreams of a dying creature.
The day you stormed our camp, so many years ago, was the first day of my life. I recall you asked for compleation in order to banish the dreams that were tormenting you. I was so lustfully anxious from both a military and personal standpoint to fulfill your request that I neglected to inquire what your dreams actually were. Many nights after you first awoke as a Phyrexian I thought about asking you, yet it seemed out of place and disloyal to our cause. I never found the right moment, and now it is too late. I shall never know what drove you to me in the first place. I shall never know the foundations of your mind, the wanderings of your spirit. It is the ultimate and crowning failure in my brief and hollow existence.
I think I always knew in my “heart” that your soul does not belong here. There is an energy... a conviction, a passion about you that is of a type not native to Mirrodin… nor does this force exist in any iteration of far-flung Phyrexia. So, it is not just that you are not “mine”you are not ours.
My dearest wish is that my great admiration for you will be as incidental in your life’s journey as an inkmoth to the core.
May the light of Lyese shine brightly on your path, and may the green moon find a peaceful place amongst your memories, wherever you might choose to walk.
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger. Praetor, the Tangle, New Phyrexia.

The humongous myr peered out over the edge of the crater. To either side of its massive beaked skull, smaller versions of the same ovoid head popped up curiously. Soon there was a row several myr deep lining the crater’s opening, punctuated in the center by the Big Myr.
Outside of the crater was a huge ruckus. White-style Phyrexians were tussling with the golden humans and green-style Phyrexians. It was very confusing. The heads of all the little myr turned toward the big one in their midst.
The big myr made a gesture to indicate a headdress. The little myr all nodded in recognition—that was the sign for white-style Phyrexians. Then the big myr extended his arm for all to see, and gave a big Thumbs Down.
With a sound like a crashing wave of crickets, a silver flood of myr swarmed the battle taking place on their doorstep.

Venser had come to the room at the appointed hour. He’d only been in here for five minutes and he was already feeling sweaty and claustrophobic. He had no idea what they were talking about. Liliana had flung open the door and flopped back down onto her couch, and had started babbling about people, places, deeds, misdeeds… and all kinds of things he was not prepared to hear about. There was something about a minotaur lord’s particular size and girth. And something about a Josu calling her a trollop and slut even though he was banging half the servants in the keep. Venser’d definitely caught something about a menage… or menagerie?—with a dwarven king, and how exactly vampire fangs feel upon insertion at various seemingly arbitrary places, which led to the commentary on tentacles versus Vedalken arms. And now the conversation had somehow taken an emotional twist and had turned theoretical. Philosophical. Venser sighed and rubbed his temples.
She burped and continued undaunted in her oration.
“When someone is… so attracted to me they can’t help themselves, and lose themselves in me… then I can lose myself in them… That is when I feel free.”
Venser started to ask if she meant “in” literally, but reconsidered after taking a split second inventory of the number of wine bottles cluttering the room. Empty wine bottles. All of the remainder of Jor’s extensive collection, it seemed. 
“There have to be other moments when you felt free,” Venser said, his gaze falling to the figure lying facedown on the bed, head lolling over the edge as a mass of glossy, gloriously messy dark hair trailed the floor. Her arm hung listlessly. Her fingertips were crouched atop a half empty glass.
“If there are, I don’t remember them,” she declared to the floor with muffled defiance.
Venser didn’t say anything. The necromancer rolled over with a groan, smoothing her hair back from her face with effort.
“Where’sthatKoth,” she demanded.
“He’s revived and restrained, ready to ship to the site.”
“The Cage?”
“Done, but there are flaws… I’ve been up all night. I did everything I—”
“Flawed and functional’s fine. Like me, in fact!” she waved her hand and slopped some wine out of the glass.
The floor was cluttered. Venser reached down and picked up a pair of... something lacey, and quickly set them aside on an ornamental table. He put his hands in his pockets.
“No chatty Venser today, eh? That’s fine too," the writhing hair grumbled from the bed.
Venser stared at nothing and said less.
“Well you wanna do this, or what?” Liliana propped herself up on one elbow. She dramatically dangled the wine goblet in pale fingers, then languidly flipped her wrist back and dropped the glass. It shattered and the remainder of its carmine contents splayed across the dark stone of her chamber.
“Yes,” Venser said. He turned to his left, extended his arm and drew open the door for her. Sickly light shone in, illuminating his dire expression.
“Giant scorpions! Can’t you even pretend we’re going to a party?” Liliana lurched forward and breezed past him with haughty imbalance. As he followed her into the hall, her hand slipped back to brush across the front of his pants. Venser lost his grip on the door as he hurried through. It slammed shut with vehemence, narrowly missing his fingertips.
“That was entirely an accident,” Liliana whispered loudly, looking back over her shoulder at him. The shadows hid most of her face. Venser watched, fascinated, as a violet light sparked from her eyes and brightened, exposing a flush on her lips and cheeks. She smiled with such a confidence that the artificer stopped walking, but all she did was lift her hand, cup it over a torchiere in the wall, and snuff it out so her eyes glowed even brighter in the darkness.
“Venser,” she said softly. “We have worlds to change. Move those leaden feet.”
And, despite his misgivings about her, this place, and the entire plan, Venser found that his appendages responded to the prompts of darkness. Her violet light disappeared around the curve ahead in the passage.
“Right behind you,” he said.

Sheoldred had never been so high in her life.
The black praetor looked down at the tiny people on the ground below, and giggled wildly. In between giggles she stuffed handfuls of bread into her mouth. Why not? It was, in fact, probably her last meal ever. Somehow the dark mage had procured baked goods, and that was all that mattered. The necromancer had handed up whole loaves through the bars of her cage.
“Sheoldred. Look what I found,” the dark lady had said. For that, Sheoldred had already decided that should the need arise, she would follow this mage even in the afterlife. If there was one.
“Psssst, Jin! Jinny-Jin!” Sheoldred rattled her bars at her neighbor, Jin “silver crawfish” Gitaxias. “Want some?” she said as she extended half a loaf his way.
“BIXhrrrrrt tib Dup LZktmktwiT!” he replied, turning away from her.
Sheoldred felt more dejected than reasonable at his response. Now that she was so physically close to her once-rival praetor, she was sure there was something familiar about him that she just couldn’t place. Her mind hadn’t been working properly as of late. She felt paranoid all the time, and her twitching had worsened. Sheoldred shoved another fist-sized bite of bread into her mouth and forgot about Jin-Gitaxias and her ills as the fragrance of rye and the taste of honey bloomed on her tongue.
In the cage above her, Vorinclex sat cross-legged. He hadn’t spoken or moved in days, though the Auriok mystics confirmed his vitals were still strong and that his brain was functioning. He was, they assured Liliana, still very much alive.
But you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. Hands resting on his folded legs, the Voice of Hunger was still as a statue save for his shallow breathing. His face seemed slack, vacant even, and his eyes soft and unfocused.
“At least he doesn’t look like he’s in any pain,” Venser had said. Liliana hadn’t answered, just leaned over and removed a slip of paper that was pinched between Vorinclex’s left thumb and forefinger. She’d tucked it into her bodice without looking at it. Venser promptly forgot about it.
On the ground below the three suspended praetors, it was the worst kind of organized chaos.
The strongest of the Auriok worked furiously at the crane that held up the cage-contraption, their golden bodies shining with effort as they maneuvered and held the goblin-engineered crane according to Venser’s directives.
“Over to the left. The left. No, my left—” the artificer waved his arms as the Cage swung one way and then the other, his voice barely audible over the creak of the crane.
“TEN FEET TO THE RIGHT!” Liliana screamed, stabbing an arm in the proper direction. The Auriok foreman barked to his crew and the Cage wavered into place. “You need to be… more dir-ect,” Liliana hiccupped, losing her balance and leaning heavily into Venser. He started to put his arm out to steady her, but stopped himself. She didn’t notice, and dug her nails into his elbow and steadied herself.
“Andhow’sourKoth,” she said. Venser jerked his head to the side. Liliana peered around him and saw the vile but handsome red planeswalker suitably bound (and gagged) with some nifty enchanted shackles courtesy Venser and a regular ball gag that a goblin had helpfully proffered (and came from Gods knows where). Liliana didn’t even want to know.
“Great. So is that the right position?” at Venser’s nod, Liliana swayed forward. “LOWER IT!” she bellowed to the crane crew. The foreman gestured down and the Cage descended neatly until it was only a few feet from the ground, a suitable distance for loading. The positioning test over, Liliana stumbled over to a crate and sat down.
A herd of goblin craftsmen rushed past, eager to help Venser. He showed them several places on the crane that needed reinforcement. Why the little buggers liked him so much Liliana had no idea. She always had to threaten them into doing anything for her (except that one that donated the ball gag) and Hel knew she was way more charming than old pastyface Venser. He’d fit right in at a Chancery. Maybe she’d leave him there, in fact.
“Lady.” It was Glissa, with Slobad’s hand perched on her shoulder, returned from her perimeter recon. According to the compleated elf’s earlier report, they had nearly lost the crater to a company of Orthodoxy led by a priest. Apparently at the last minute a bazillion or so myr had emerged from the crater itself to join the battle on Glissa’s side. Liliana looked at Glissa. There was something different about the captain. Her eyes shone with an inner green light that had definitely not there before, and she wore a slight smile on her face.
Normally Liliana would have been intrigued, but here in the eleventh hour all she had energy for was seeing this project through. Fix the Phyrexians, renegotiate with Bolas. Find the next demon. Fix the Jace problem… or rather, the Emmara problem. Track down Sorin and The Veil—have something to barter. Watch out for Tezzeret. Figure out what to do with Venser and what Bolas wanted with him. The endless tumult of her to-do list momentarily overwhelmed her. Liliana closed her eyes.
She thought of her one pleasant memory of home: With her brother, sitting on a peaty bank over an estuary, drinking whiskey too young and watching the sunset. The smell of moss and wet wood, heady with lavender. The foxglove blooms were bursts of color in the fading light. She had no cares in the world.
With discipline, Liliana pushed everything except New Phyrexia’s imminent doom to the outskirts of her mind.
“Did you find the myr leader?” Liliana said, wishing someone would bring her some water. Or coffee.
“Yes. Here he is now,” Glissa turned. A myr as big as a small giant humped over towards them. It had a long, heavy stride different than the generally graceful and light-footed manner of smaller myr. The big myr towered over both Glissa and Liliana as it came to a stop. To Liliana’s surprise, the myr performed a courtly bow—albeit the most awkward and god-awfully ugly bow she had ever seen in her life.
Then it reached one segmented hand down and thoroughly scratched its codplate. Glissa gasped. Liliana laughed. The myr reached up and pushed a button on its ovoid head. With a click, the beaked visor rolled back to reveal a face within.
“Geth!” Glissa said.
“Ugh, him again,” Slobad sulked. “Tell old fat-face go back to the Vault and stay there.”

Venser watched the movement of the suns. The sky had stopped changing weeks ago—whatever was happening to this plane was causing all the colors to run together into a despairing grayish brown. The sickly suns vaguely reminded him of making mud pies on Urborg. He’d stuck some oddly colored stones into a dome of mud to approximate a cake. Then his father had whipped him for being dirty. As if someone could keep clean in an Urborg swamp.
The crane was in the right place, the Cage was holding up, the praetors were calm. Liliana had procured some water and was gulping it down, sitting and being quiet for once. Glissa and the big myr were having a heated conversation. Venser admired the myr suit from afar. He would’ve loved to study it, if they had more time.
A rock hit him in the back.
He turned to find Koth staring at him balefully, another pebble in the red mage’s hand, ready to throw. Venser sighed. Koth raised both shackled hands and pointed pointedly at the gag in his mouth. Venser turned and surreptitiously looked at Liliana. She had joined Glissa and the myr. The artificer sidestepped hastily over to his frenemy and, keeping an eye on the dark lady, fumbled with the gag until it fell off.
“What,” he said to Koth. “And keep your voice down. In fact, try not to move your mouth. Liliana’s like the Almighty of eavesdropping.”
“You talk about her like she’s your woman,” Koth growled. “No wonder you sold me out.”
“That’s the most ludicrous thing you’ve said yet, Koth. And in the brief time I’ve known you, that’s still saying a lot.”
“You’re damning this plane to oblivion.”
“Well, you brought me here.”
“I’ve thought a lot of things about you, artificer, but being capable of genocide was not one of them.”
“That’s actually what I told her,” Venser admitted.
“But you’ll still do it?” Koth looked genuinely puzzled.
“I have a lot to settle with Phyrexia. I’m not sure they count as a race, Koth. I am sure they are a wholly unsustainable life form. This is more like taking a shot at finding a cure for a plague.”
“Collateral damage be damned?”
“Maybe if I were a better, stronger, different kind of man I could think of a better alternative.”
“And you’ll even murder me to get there. I clearly underestimated you, my friend.”
“How many times have you said you’d die—would love to die, in fact—to save your homeland?”
“I think your woman is teaching you the ways of the forked-tongued, Venser. It doesn’t suit you.”
“She's not mine. We need a red aspect. You’ll live forever. Governing your home, protecting it from future corruption.”
“You’re not giving me a choice.”
“What if this works, Koth? And come on, you'll be immortal.”
“If you believe in it that strongly, why don’t you take the blue praetor’s place in the cage?” Koth said, unable to keep his voice from rising in anger as he jerked his head towards Jin-Gitaxias, scrabbling pitifully at the sides of the construct. Venser shrugged.
“I’m a coward. But if it makes you feel better, Liliana will probably kill me anyway.”

The red walker had been successfully loaded into the cage. Glissa and a select few warriors were stationed around the perimeter. The myr had retreated back to the reservoir to wait out the cleansing, Geth stating that he’d owed Glissa one and that was all. Liliana had returned to Venser’s side and they were silent, each doing final mental checks on what was supposed to happen next.
“Are you sure you’ll have enough mana?” Liliana said. “I could sacrifice—”
“No more sacrificing. I’m still mourning my tools.”
“I’ll get you new ones.”
“Those were my inheritance from Urborg.”
“You had them on you the whole time you were a zombie?”
“I stuck them in crevices in my skeleton. It was pretty convenient, actually.”
“I’ll get you new ones. Do you have enough mana?”
“This reservoir is ripe. The manas’s attuned to myr but I can recalibrate it en route to fuel any artifact. I use to do it all the time at home. Easy.”
The goblins and Auriok were packing up and heading back to the Furnace. Only one or two essential to the process at hand were sticking around. Liliana had ordered everyone else underground. The Cage hung, perfectly balanced, near the edge of the crater. The five inner cages were spheres of strong, simple lines of silver. The large outer cage was more ornate, silver and darksteel collaborating to create curls and whorls of incredible beauty and invulnerable strength. At the center of the spheres was a gold-and-glass artifact with a distinctly alien shape to it. This was a replica, larger than the original.
“Where did you say you got the plan for the filter?”
“It was in a sketchbook that Elspeth carried around. She said it was from an area of her plane called Esper, a center of artifice and science. The sphinxes were studying it for warfare, I believe.”
Venser waited, but Liliana asked no more questions. She licked her lips and adjusted her hair, staring at the Cage. Minutes passed.
“It turned out to be quite aesthetically pleasing,” she said. And it was true. The curves and ornamentation on the construct all had practical purpose, of course, but the way it all flowed together to create visual harmony was just the way Venser liked to do things. He pointed at the joints between the cage proper and the scourglass at its center.
“Those connections were a real trick. The glass has to have some wiggle room or its own reverberations will shatter it, but the force it exerts will also tear it from moldings that aren’t strong enough and we’d have the same result, it’d plummet and break.”
“Oh? So what did you… ”
“Darksteel fabric. I got the idea from you, actually.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Liliana laughed, shaking her head. “I know nothing about fabricating artifacts.” Venser smiled, too, and put his hands up to illustrate his story.
“You were thrashing around in bed one night. You’d gotten tangled up in those fancy sheets—with one end on each side hooked up on Jor’s fancy bedposts. The sheet was trapping you in the middle of the bed, but keeping you from falling onto the floor. It was brilliant. The perfect physics for my problem.”
Liliana was silent.
“I’m glad it worked out,” she finally said. Venser smiled to himself. It had been a long time since he’d shared his work with anyone. When was the last time? Shiv? Jhoira and the ambulator… seems like ten lifetimes ago. Venser’s gaze fell on the empty sphere in the Cage.
“What about the white aspect?” he asked. “You never told me wh—”
“White’ll be here.” Liliana cut him off. “What were you and Koth talking about?”
Venser swore in his head. “The uh, merits of genocide and my general uselessness and cowardice.” He ran his hand through his hair and shrugged, proffering a weak grin.
“Sounds productive.” Liliana looked away, apparently losing interest. She rotated her neck and then started massaging both wrists alternately as she stared at the Cage, their precious construct that they’d dumped so many resources into.
“What if white doesn’t show?” Venser couldn’t help asking.
“Then I’ll use you,” Liliana said mildly.

It was time for action.
The relief that flooded Liliana’s body as she stepped from the shadows of the reservoir monoliths was nothing short of ecstasy. She hated waiting. Had she possessed a cock and balls, they would have called her a man of action. As it was, they called her a bitch.
Which was perfectly fine with her. She walked forth hooded and cloaked in swaths of black mana, her eyes a brilliant, cold violet that luminesced brighter than Mirrodin’s moons but gave no warmth or life. The magic coursed through her body like liquor: the finest cognac, the richest wine, the most fragrant of genevers. The magic slid over her skin with the fingertips of a lover, caressing, teasing her blood into a fury and infusing it with lightning strikes of adrenaline. Liliana smiled her real smile, the smile that thousands upon thousands had carried to their graves as their last vision in life.
Hours of meditation had prepared her to cleanse this plane of the Phyrexian influence. She would attune the Killing Wave wave to Phyrexian biology, it would be powered by the convergence of the five suns within the Cage, and then focused and disseminated through the scourglass filter. Bolas’s plan, her project management, Venser’s execution.
A beautiful storm of destruction, Liliana Vess approached the Cage with a confidence born of passion, tempered by pain, and honed by experience.

“Not you,” Elspeth said.
Not you, not you… The scene replayed in Venser’s head as cold sweat rolled down his back. Well why in the hell not me? He recalled thinking at the time that he was the best candidate for death given the selection of sentient beings present. Karn had needed him. It might save Elspeth and Koth. He could look back from the afterlife and say he’d done something with his life besides tinker away his talents in the armpit of Urborg.
Venser held up his hands and wasn’t surprised to see them shaking. He felt the colorless mana from the reservoir as a weight on his shoulders, a crushing burden under which he struggled to breath and longed to release. He went over the procedure again in his mind, quadruple-checking his calculations and the required timing. The anxiety made him woozy, but he knew his math was correct, the science of it was sound, this thing he’d built should hold up. It’ll work. Sweat dripped into his eyes and he passed his hand over his forehead. Do I have a fever? Slapping himself on the face to gain some clarity, he blinked rapidly and saw Liliana coming.
Shocked, he took a step back and accidentally banged his head against the construct. Shadows thirty feet high writhed and convulsed all around the necromancer, and from within the dark living miasma her eyes shone with a piercing light. There was no playfulness in her gaze or her grin. Only death. The entire plane seemed to fall silent. Venser glanced up to see that the praetors and even Koth were held in trancelike fascination as Liliana drew nearer.
Venser swallowed and suddenly was very unsure about… everything. But as he wiped his hands on his pants to dry them, he noticed they’d stopped shaking. Liliana stood a few paces in front of him, smiling that awful smile. Does she even know who I am? How can she function with all that going on
“Hello, Spenser,” she said. Her voice was different, too, echoing from far away. “Or was it Fencer?”
“Venser,” he said automatically, his tongue parched.
“Ah yes, you are the artificer.” The Liliana-monster motioned him to step away from the Cage. She bent her neck back to look up and view the scourglass replica.
Venser felt nauseated.
“It’s beautiful,” the spectre said. “Look, the moldings that connect the glass to the rest of the construct are made of Darksteel fabric.”
Venser froze.
“Also, the moldings are shaped like lilies. Why is that, artificer?” The black mana writhed and tendrils crawled across the ground as if seeking Venser’s body. “Why is that, artificer?” the Liliana-thing’s voice echoed off the metallic landscape to crash into Venser from every side. “Why is that, artificer?”
Venser turned away from her and fell to his knees, the nausea overwhelming him in dry heaves.
“A weakness of the flesh,” the specter said, softer. Elesh Norn’s words. Venser managed to steady himself on the ground and the sickness passed. He turned back towards the specter and, still kneeling, looked up at her.
“A friend told me the greatest strength lies in knowing your own weaknesses,” he said hoarsely.
The specter of Liliana rose into the air. “Luckily, I have no friends,” it said with a laugh. And then it winked at him. Extending her arms, Liliana channeled dark mana into the scourglass. The crystal-clear bulbs of the artifact filled with wafting shadows, their graceful dance contradictory to their true nature.
A horn blast screamed through the air.
Venser jumped and almost pissed himself. Liliana slowly turned her head from her work.
“What is this?” she mused, her words floating down to Venser like dark snowflakes. They watched as Glissa appeared at the top of the rise and ran break-neck at full speed towards them. Behind her, on the ridge, a dark mass of green appeared.
“Fucking elves!” Venser said, staggering to his feet and calling defensive spells to mind.
“I. Dislike. Elves,” the Liliana spectre called down to him with chilling conviction as she imbued the scourglass with the death wave. Venser knew it took a massive amount of energy to control a spell of that size. The magic would naturally try to manifest itself in a chaotic manner.
Glissa had reached them. “Ezuri. And Melira!” she breathed. Behind her, Venser could see at least a battalion’s worth of warriors charging them. He needed to reserve mana for the convergence, but…
Venser extended his arms, rotating his palms outward then slowly drawing his hands apart. Halfway between their position and the Ezuri’s vanguard, a translucent wall striated with blue appeared. The wall widened and rose until it was a full half-sphere that covered them like a dome. Venser wiped his brow with the back of his hand. Glissa stepped close and put one arm around his waist to help support him. Slobad’s hand skittered across to Venser’s shoulder and held up a water vial to his lips. Drinking, Venser felt better—but only for a moment.
Through the wall, Venser watched the ranks of the elves part and from their midst walked a huge silver golem.
“Karn?!” Venser shouted, breaking free of Glissa. I really must be sick. Hallucinations…
The golem flicked a finger. The protective dome lifted up and vanished. Venser stumbled forward. This can’t be happening. Venser started to bring another spell to mind but Karn extended his hand towards him and Venser felt the thought slip from his consciousness. What is he doing? Doesn’t he understand we’re going to eradicate Phyrexian influence? Venser watched as Karn’s blank gaze rose to where Liliana was finishing the scouglass infusion.
“NO!” Venser vanished into the Aether. He reappeared in front of Karn. He reached for an ornate needle-tipped awl in the secret pocket he’d sewn into Jor’s vest. Karn, eyes sad and unrecognizing, shook his head, and before Venser could draw the replica, it vanished beneath his fingertips. Venser fell forward, exhausted. He heard Ezuri and his warriors charging forward. There was only Glissa left to defend the Cage and Liliana.
“I’m sorry,” he heard Melira say as she passed him.
Venser felt a huge hand close around his neck. He was being lifted from the ground. He opened his eyes and found himself eye to eye with amnesiatic Karn.

It was done. The scourglass was ready. The next step was convergence. Where was that artificer? Liliana floated away from the Cage to survey the scene. There was a huge crowd of elves standing below her, and one human girl with flaming red hair. Glissa stood between them and the edge of the reservoir, brandishing all of her weapons. The spectre had a number of murderous spells at the ready, but as the red-haired girl's face turned upwards to her, Liliana let her hands empty of mana, emitting a ghostly sigh of resignation.
“A party? For me? How thoughtful,” Liliana called down to them sweetly. “Glissa, dear, stand aside and let our guests have a closer look for their revels.” Glissa hesitated, then with a dubious expression stepped aside and lowered her weapons.
Ezuri started forward, but Melira put out her arm and held him back so she could walk forward. She held an elvish staff and seemed taller than she had in the Furnace. No one in the crowd noticed the fleeting smile that passed across the spectre’s lips.
“Melira,” Liliana said, floating downward on a cloud of shadow. “What on earth are you doing, child?”
“You must be stopped,” Melira said. “You betrayed us. You murdered Jor Kadeen! You’re going to set a plague loose on this plane. I can’t let you do it.” Liliana listened to the girl’s words and smirked. The spectral tendrils and the supernatural light winked out and she stood face-to-face with Melira. Glissa looked anxiously from her liege lady to the elves who were, in times long gone, her kin-in-arms.
“You knew nothing about Jor-el. Carnal familiarity is the way to a man’s heart, dear. All you have are a little girl’s ideas about what he was. You have no capacity to understand the real man,” Liliana said. “I was as naive as you, once. I would have traded my soul for a man who would have just as soon watched me burn on a stake. Jor-el and I worked on this plan together. He was going to trade you to Vorinclex for Glissa’s maps of the Core.”
“Yes, but that was to save us,” Melira stammered. “He—”
“Glissa, what would you have done to Melira once you got your hands on her?”
“Dissected her to extract a cure for the degeneracy that was infecting our ranks,” Glissa said without hesitation.
“Jor Kadeen’s end goals and mine were the same,” Liliana went on. “Black and white are just two sides of the same coin.”
“You, warrior,” Koth addressed Glissa, shouting from his cage with the conviction that only the damned possess. “You are a soldier. Do you not see the dishonor in this path?”
“I am Phyrexian and Viridian,” Glissa replied calmly. “I am well aware of the risks, and all questions of honor.”
Liliana fumed. Where is Venser? She had no idea how this had turned into some kind of town hall meeting. Since when was her project a democratic stomping ground? She had to stall for time and turn this tide in their favor. She glared up at Koth.
“So Bolas told you he’d save your people? Did he neglect to mention he doesn’t have that power?” She enjoyed the surprised expression on the Vulshok’s face at her mention of Nicol Bolas. “Did he neglect to mention that he and I are business associates? Bolas sent you to attack us for the sole purpose of your capture and amalgamation into the new sun. Urabrask didn’t work out, so we were short a red, and you fill out the specs quite nicely.” 
Now it was Koth’s turn to be speechless. Liliana smiled with satisfaction, but though she was winning the war of words, she was anxious. Where is Venser?

A searing pain burned in Karn’s chest. What was this? He stared into the haunted eyes of the human he held in his grasp, and the Aether rushed in to surround them.
The roar of the Blind Eternities filled Karn’s ears. He looked around. He was standing on a small floating rock formation. He looked down. His old friend Venser was asleep at his feet. Karn smiled. Now, how had they gotten here? What were they doing? Some important research, no doubt, some new breakthrough in artifice. Then, Venser opened his eyes and looked up at Karn. 
The golem screamed as a pain unlike any he had ever felt scorched his torso. Clutching his chest, he thrust his fingers through the metal until…
With a resounding crack the Blind Eternities disappeared in a flash of light. Karn was standing on a battlefield in Argentum—no, Mirrodin. No—this plane was something different, something too horrible to… 
“I know the feeling. Welcome back, Karn. Guess that was our little planeswalker ‘heart to heart’, eh?”
Karn groaned. Only one planeswalker he knew was capable of such poor humor—a good friend, a great artificer.
“Venser. I’m home,” smiled Karn.

Melira, distraught, had taken matters into her own hands.
Ezuri brutally attacked Liliana and Glissa, while the healer clambered up the cage like a tree-climbing youth and freed Koth.
Liliana’s curses and Glissa’s blows rang over the battlefield as Koth drew upon the power of the mountains and stalked toward the dark necromancer.
Elves lay in various states of death all over the landscape, and the sight fueled Koth’s thirst and rage. Liliana stood over Melira. Koth unleashed a barrage of lightning strikes at the dark mage and watched with pleasure as she was caught off guard and maneuvered for her life. Koth stepped assuredly over to the green mystic and picked her slight form up with both arms.
“Thank you,” Melira said. Her eyes were as green as emeralds.
From the outskirts of the battlefield, one praetor watched as all unfolded. He saw a strong, muscular humanoid, his arms wrapped around a green-red girl...
Urabrask charged the entity who dared place his hands upon Melira.

“Wait!” Venser waded forward through the carnage. “Wait!”
“It is hopeless, my friend,” Karn said.
Liliana was in death-dealing mode. She released spell after spell of murderous doom upon the ranks of elves, a malicious smile on her face. Glissa was hemmed in on all sides by Viridians, and Melira was crawling for refuge while Koth locked in combat with… Urabrask?
“Wait!” Venser shouted, running toward the Cage.
An arrow ripped through his arm. Another hit home in his ribs. Venser tripped and fell to a knee. Ezuri stood near the Cage, bow in hand.

Liliana turned as a dozen more elves disintegrated before her. This battle was a joke. They couldn’t touch her. But it was still problematic in that she was using mana she needed to see the project through. And, where was Venser… If something happened to the artificer their plan would be in dire straits, indeed.

There. She saw a flash of white cloth and brown hair in the corner of her eye. Standing, Liliana realized in horror that Ezuri held his twin double-blades above her artificer’s injured form. Venser was kneeling on the ground, hands pressed against seeping wounds in his side.

“We could just use Tezzeret. Your little artificer isn’t on our side.” Liliana hesitated. Bolas was never wrong. She could just let Venser die, damnation all these elves to Hel, and Bolas’s tried-and-true etherium-augmented ringer would complete the work. Or perhaps the golem—he was of unsound mind, surely Bolas could just appropriate Karn for their needs. They didn’t need Venser. He was, in fact, a liability… since his loyalties were a mystery… Liliana lowered her hands. The artificer’s pale neck was just ripe for cleaving, pasty and inviting beneath the murky light of Mirrodin’s dying moons.

Ezuri’s blades descended.


“Slobad gave up one chance at godhood. Thought I was saving a friend. But now she needs me… in the sun. I be the red you need.” A disembodied hand was clinging to Liliana’s knee.
Liliana was exhausted. She glanced at where Glissa was leaning against a rock, breathing heavily. She had multiple wounds but her eyes still glowed with that fey green.
“You’re a loyal friend,” Liliana murmured to the goblin hand. Then she picked it up, and flung it with surprising accuracy into the cage that had previously held Koth. Not surprisingly, the goblin hand made a very obscene gesture at her when it landed in the cage. Liliana laughed. She hitched her other arm up around Venser’s body. His head lolled against her shoulder. Ezuri and Melira mewled within their temporary states of inefficacy. Ezuri had been pacified and Melira was on indefinite guard duty. It'd stung to cast the enchantments, but Liliana hadn't been able to think of a better solution before Venser was beheaded. Besides, she thought, sometimes white is right.
Fittingly, on that note Liliana turned her head softly to the shadows behind her. “And you, Jor, will you step into immortality?” 

The Priest of Norn came forward. “You planned this all along?” he said, in a voice like desert wind over a dry riverbed.
“You know I did.” Liliana grinned, tired but exultant.
The white priest nodded, once.
“I drank all your wine,” Liliana shrugged. The Priest turned back to look at her. Then he, too, shrugged. With measured steps, he ascended to his place in the Cage.
Liliana lowered her face to the artificer in her arms.
“Venser? Venser, I need you. It’s time.” She gently lifted his face to view the Cage and its contents. It was truly beautiful. A diversity of life that would alter a plane, that would change history. The blackness within the scourglass writhed, eager for release. The gold and silver of the structure shone with a brilliance that defied the weakening heavens.
Venser lifted a shaking hand.
“You can do it,” Liliana whispered, guiding his fingers with her own, up to the suns. She pressed her face against his, willing it to work. “Please,” she said, “This is nothing, without you.”
The suns—or moons—of Mirrodin vanished from the sky.
And then they appeared within the Cage.
Five colors, five eternal energies. Five were trapped within the confines of Darksteel, silver, and gold. The screams of the aspects melded with the reverberating pulses of the suns.
Vorinclex melted to green, consumed by Lyese. Sheoldred dissolved to black, embraced by Ingle. Jor ascended to white, chosen by Bringer. Jin-Gitaxias effused to blue, gathered by the Eye of Doom. And Slobad’s hand combusted to red, lit by the Sky Tyrant.
The construct began to shake, its connections shuddering and twitching as though loathe to release the killing wave upon the plane.
“No, no, this can’t fail. This is my legacy,” Venser gasped. He began to channel mana into the artifact to reinforce it. He felt Liliana’s arms tighten around him. We have done something great, together. Her words rang in his consciousness.
Even if this is the end, it’s my victory, Venser thought. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“My friend, do you not yet realize that have you have done enough? Far too much, in fact. It is my turn.” Karn walked forward to place both hands upon the Cage. “Here, they called me the Father of Machines. How is it that Phyrexia can be more wise than I, Karn? I never considered myself a father. Yet, it is true. The tragedy of Mirrodin was caused by my neglect. More than creator, planeswalker, scholar, scientistI am a father. In my pride,  have wronged this plane. I will never again betray my progeny with my absence. I am Father of Argentum. It is time I acted as such.”

Glissa, it is true I am not certain what this spell will do. It will end all Phyrexian life, but what does that mean for the compleated, such as you? You know I deceived you. But you also know this is the only hope for this plane.
Liliana’s words echoed in her mind as Glissa watched the Cage ascend. The brightness was incomparable to anything she’d ever seen. I have something for you she heard Liliana say. A roughness and the sharp edge of a folded piece of paper manifested over Glissa’s heart, beneath her tunic. A message from an admirer the voice said. Glissa knew by instinct it was from Vorinclex. 
She wondered if Slobad was okay. “Go forth to be a God, my goblin friend… “
The light increased to a blinding flash that became the entire sky. Glissa felt wetness on her cheeks. Tears? Tears rolling down. Oil, or water? A drop rolled into the corner of her mouth. Glissa’s tongue flicked out.

“Jin-jinny jin?”
“You’re all silver.”
“You’re blue.”
Sheoldred regarded the organism in front of her. He was a completely, very silver man. She looked down at herself. The various shades of blue fabric folded around her body. She touched her face, hands. Soft, ivory skin. 
“I first saw you in the Glimmervoid,” she said to the silver man.
He didn’t respond.
“You were trying to catch blinkmoths in a glass jar,” she said.
The silver man turned toward her, surrounded by a glittering field of razor grass and blue sky.
“Forgive me?” he said. His eyes were twin pools of liquid platinum.
“I don’t know about that, but I can show you how to see the future in a loaf of bread, “ said the fatespinner.
“I’d like that,” said Memnarch.
The End

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