fiction

Future Past - A Planeswalker Story

“Abzan Banner” by Daniel Ljunggren

“Abzan Banner” by Daniel Ljunggren

by Antitonic and WriterRaven

Without disturbing even a single grain of sand, Liya manifested herself. Wherever she was, it seemed to be mostly desert. The sun bore down through a cloudless sky with enough intensity that she almost imagined she could feel it. Knowing she didn't have long, she extended her sense outwards, looking for a host body, without which she would be pulled home to her grave on the world of Melenas. Finding one wasn't a surprise, but what was a surprise is that there was only one. Usually, she had her choice of a few, and she could go with the one that was the most compatible with her possession. Still, she had precious little time to waste before her choice was made for her, so she willed her spiritual form to move towards the person she had sensed.

Dust clouds were being kicked up by a pair of people on mounts. Liya couldn't see through the dust clearly, but she could feel a compatible host. If she didn't speed up, she'd be left behind, and then taken home. She pushed herself to the limits of her spectral movement, and mentally took a breath to prepare for the sensation of assuming control.

The first thing she noticed was that the person she had possessed was wearing armour. Although she had spent years as Hadeel and other Knights of the Hallowed Order, she was unused to the weight. The second thing she realized was the mount under her was closer to a goat than a horse, and moved in a different way. The third thing was although her possession of this someone was total, it didn't confer knowledge of how the body was moving beforehand. All three of these facts dawned on Liya in one catastrophic moment that culminated in losing her balance, falling off the goat, and meeting the ground at speed in blunt force unconsciousness.

Fortunately, as a spirit, Liya no longer experienced the state of unconsciousness unless she so desired. She could remain in her host's mind and still maintain awareness of any active senses and the passage of time. This had allowed her to practice her abilities on Melenas, or to share a dream on Theros, but she still couldn't be apart for too long while visiting another's world. Liya took a moment to calm herself in the void of her host's unconsciousness before taking a risk and leaving the body.

The wind and dust had picked up in a rapidly brewing storm and the other rider had dismounted, urgently herding the stray goat back to her position. She could hear him yelling over the howling winds. "Come on Chaka, no time for a nap, Daghatar will have our heads if we're not back at the citadel before this sandstorm hits proper! If I have to tie you to this ibex to do it, I will!"

He paused, as if waiting for a response, before continuing, "Hah, fine, be like that, but don't you blame me for the smell!" Despite his words and quick movements, Liya could sense the affection and camaraderie this person felt towards her host, presumably the Chaka he had mentioned. As the rider lifted her prone body to her mount, Liya felt the pull on her soul trying to return home, so she retreated to the quiet of her unconscious host's mind. She didn't dare risk re-emerging while her host body was moving, so she contented herself with thinking about the little she had seen of this world.


It was hard to tell the passage of time without feeling, so Liya didn't know how long it had been when she started feeling warmth from without, followed by the sensation of weight on her borrowed skin. She opened her eyes, and came to staring at a stone roof.

"About time! Any longer and I was going to start asking the Wardens about you!" A familiar voice spoke up from the side of the room as Liya turned to face it. It was the rider from earlier, but he had shed the heavy armour in favour of a cloth tunic and pants. His skin was darkened from time in the sun, with a mess of dark hair spread in all directions from his head.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you," Liya said, surprised at how light her voice sounded. She propped herself up on an elbow to sit up and face her conversation partner, but in doing so the fur blanket covering her fell to the bed's surface. The widening of the man's eyes and the slight breeze across her bare chest was enough to reveal to Liya at least one part of her identity: she was not the child she had been on Theros, but instead a woman grown. It also revealed that although the armour she had been wearing had been removed, the same luxury of replacement clothes had not been afforded her. She grabbed at the blanket in a blooming embarrassment.

"Wow, you must be feeling better!" The man said with a laugh, making a show of covering his eyes but doing a poor job so he could still see through. "Anyway, you don't have to worry about reporting in to Daghatar. I took care of that days ago."

"Days?"

"You've been out for around three days. Lucky we had good news for the khan, huh? Can't imagine what would've happened if we had bad news and you were out of commission." He laughed again before his face settled into one of poorly concealed concern. "Just look after yourself, alright Chaka? No one, least of all me, wants you trying to get back on your feet before you're ready." With a smirk, he was back to being jovial. "But, if you do decide to make acrobatic trickery your future, at least work on your landing!" He waved a hand as he exited the chamber, the cloth acting as a door swaying to a stop.

Liya waited a moment to ensure she had some privacy, and took stock of herself. Her skin was darkened by the sun, a copper swarthiness that was both familiar and foreign. Her arms and legs were sculpted from firm muscle and covered in healed scars, suggesting Chaka was a fighter, and a skilled one at that. She summoned her mirror, and barely kept her shock from being audible.

Sand and dusty winds had left her hair dry and frazzled, defying any consistent directions. What stood out the most was evidence of Chaka's past: a large scar left by an axe or sword that barely missed damaging the side of her right eye, marring her face from her forehead to the corner of her mouth, barely exposing bone at some points. Chaka had either worn strong armour that day, or had been lucky enough to turn her head at the last possible moment. The physical effect of the scar pulled the eyeball towards it, leaving her eyeline crooked. With some focus, Liya could align both eyes to the center, but that forced her vision to distort and double. Relaxing brought it back to normal, but left the eye wandering.

She laid her head back down, resting on the pillow. It was harder than she was used to, filled with dried reeds, but comfortable all the same. She closed her eyes, and allowed sleep to take her body. Inside, Liya was concerned. What would be required of her on this world? She wasn't a fighter, unless Chaka possessed magic to assist with Liya's lack of skill. Even then, it would take time to learn what magic she had at her disposal and how to utilise it. Then there was her deal with Erebos to consider. Was she still bound by it, ensuring the deceased made their way across the incalculable distance to Theros? If she didn't abide by it, could she even be punished from another world?

Faintly, she heard a horn blowing, pulling her body back to its waking senses. Opening her eyes, she could see night had descended and its chill caused her to pull the blanket close. Looking outside, Liya could see faint light coming through the carved window from torches in the courtyard below. Inside the room itself, a candle was lit to provide a modicum of illumination. The curtain at the door shifted as a woman entered.

"Oh good, you're awake. I suppose that means Suke will stop bothering me at every turn to know your condition." She set a cup down on a side table, walked across the room, and gently yet forcefully grabbed Liya's head. "Look up."

No sooner had Liya obeyed than the woman barked another order. "Down." Then "Left," and "Right". Her tone was brusque, but reminiscent of someone who had worked with medicine or healing for a long time, and was used to having their instructions obeyed eventually. There was no point in arguing.

"Straight ahead." Liya did so, but the woman corrected herself. "With both, if possible." She sounded slightly sympathetic at that. Liya focused, trying to align her errant eye by the memory of her appearance in the mirror. After a moment of uncomfortable eye contact, made worse by the fracturing of Liya's vision, the woman let go as her expression softened into one of caring relief.

"Good, everything's fine. Sorry to ask that of you; I know it's been difficult since the attack." Her eyes betrayed her by darted quickly to Liya's right side, taking in the deep scar.

"The attack? Oh. Yes, I mean, you know."

"Mmm." The woman agreed non-verbally as she turned towards a small table at the side of the room.

"Sorry, who did you say was bothering you?"

"Suke?" The woman's eyes narrowed in concern and suspicion. "Your partner? The man who came in earlier? He was riding with you when you fell?"

Liya panicked. "O-oh! Suke! I thought you said... uh, Sark!"

"Who's Sark?"

"Exactly! That's why I was confused. I mean, of course I'd know Suke."

The woman stared for a moment, before nodding, evidently satisfied. "Of course. I'll get you some clothes. Some kaf?" She gestured vaguely towards the steaming cup she had brought with her.

"Um, yes?" Liya replied, unsure. She'd never heard of whatever it was she was being offered. The woman pulled a bundle out from a trunk at the foot of the bed, and handed it over before leaving the room. The clothes were similar to those that both the woman and apparently Suke had been wearing: a rough woven material for a top and trousers, softer than Liya remembered from Melenas, but not as soft as her tunics on Theros. Liya took some time to admire her borrowed body as she dressed, Chaka's fitness could only help in what was needed, and Liya felt stronger than she ever had.

Before long, the woman returned with a second cup, made of clay with no handle, and steaming like the other. Liya took it in both hands, and the warmth suffused into her skin without burning. The liquid within was a dark brown, nearly black, and smelled strongly of earth and a hint of foreign spice. Taking care to not scald herself, Liya drank.

At first, she thought it had been a trap, a poison of some sort. It was so bitter, how could anyone enjoy it? Then, she tasted the spices. They danced across her tongue with just enough strength and delicacy to draw attention away from the stark bitterness of the rest. She decided she liked it. The warmth was already spreading through her as she suddenly realised how cold she felt.

Liya sat for a while, savouring the drink, as the healer shared the room in silence. Once more the curtain dividing the room parted, allowing an armoured man to enter.

"Pardon the intrusion at this hour, but the khan is holding audience, and has called for Chaka to attend."

Liya and the healer exchanged looks, confusion meeting concern, before the healer nodded. "You don't need to stay here, and it must be important, so go."

Liya followed the man up to an open area on the roof, dominated by a massive tree. It took her a moment to register that several people were gathered, facing a seat that appeared to be made of a translucent orange crystal. The man seated on it was tall and thin, but solidly put together. His armour was more ornate than others she had seen, but from his presence, Liya would be foolish to assume that it was merely decorative.

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The man accompanying her announced her to the audience. "My khan: the scout Chaka, as you requested." The man in the throne waved his hand, and Liya's escort gave a small bow and returned to the side of the plaza to join with a rank of his fellows. He spoke to her, voice commanding from the distance, "Please, be seated." He gestured towards a cushion positioned in front of the throne, next to another taken by a man dressed in layers of fur.

"Yes, uh... my khan." Liya hesitated, then copied the small bow the escort had given and sat down. At first she was unsure of how etiquette dictated she should sit, but she emulated the man in fur's position and seemed to draw no attention. A name echoed in the back of Liya's mind, and putting information together, she assumed this was Daghatar, and that "khan" was equivalent to a lord or king.

Daghatar spoke again, addressing the man in furs. "There, you have your guest. Now, will you finally tell me what is so important that you'd risk much to leave the frontier, alone, but refuse to disclose without a common scout present, even under instruction from a khan?"

The man in furs made a seated bow. "I apologise again, khan of the Abzan Houses. The whispers of the Unwritten often make no sense to those for whom they are not intended to hear. This month past, one of our shamans heard whispers of one of your warriors that would suffer an accident, though minor, and that they would need to be present for another reading. There were other visions associated that I assume make sense to this warrior that would mean nothing to others. With your permission?" He asked, gesturing towards Liya. Daghatar nodded, and the man turned towards her.

"Alongside visions of you and another falling, the shaman spoke of a great plain dominated by a fortress of stone, ruled by the faceless ones. Of a child both young and old. Of creatures of night given form. And of death, many times. Does this reading of the Unwritten sound of you?"

Liya was stunned. How could anyone know about her life? The places and people she'd seen and knew. Fighting back tears, she simply nodded. The man turned back to face the khan. "And you, oh khan of the Abzan?"

Daghatar shook his head. "Nothing but words. You've made your point. What do you ask?"

"The shaman was quite sure that what whispers they could hear from this warrior would not only be important to both the Temur and Abzan, but could possibly save every clan of Tarkir from destruction. So on behalf of my khan, Yasova Dragonclaw of the Temur Frontier, would you consider allowing this warrior to be her guest, and attend our shaman? We swear that no harm should come to her by Temur hand."

Daghatar considered this for a moment before continuing. "I will allow this, with some provision. My sister-kin is one of my scouts, and as such, is accustomed to working in tandem with another. You will bring both with you, and both shall be extended the same protection you offer to one. Further, if this offer is breached, I will personally lead all the forces at my disposal to bring ruin to anyone or anything bearing the Temur name. Secondly, they will also be extended my personal protection, the details of which I will not divulge to one not of my house. Suffice to say, if your word and the word of those you represent are honourable, you will have no reason for concern from it. These are my terms."

The Temur messenger bowed again. "It is so agreed. You are much fairer than anticipated. In truth, my instruction was to accept any terms you felt necessary, short of bloodshed."

Daghatar barked a short laugh. "If I had known that, my terms would have been far more extreme. But no, I am a man of my word, and the terms will stand. I expect you will be leaving as soon as my scouts can be prepared?"

"Just so."

"Then you will be escorted to your mount, to await their arrival." With a wave of his hand, Daghatar signaled one of the armoured guards to escort the messenger to the entrance of the citadel.

"Now," Daghatar started, addressing Liya and the assembled others. "I didn't name you sister-kin just for the ceremony, but that you're aware of how you should be receiving this instruction. I trust you to act as honourably as I would expect, lest you tarnish your name and that of all of the Abzan. Who is your partner again?"

"...Suke?" Liya guessed, less confident than she sounded.

"Yes, I remember now. Learn what you can, and if this is as grave as it appears. I wouldn't put it past any of the other khans to try something, but this is too specific to be a trick. As for the other..." He reached for a bag tied to his belt, and produced a small piece of the same orange crystal. "I trust you know what to do with this if necessary." He held it out towards her. Liya, taking the cue, stood and took the crystal in her hands. It was warm, and the reflected light almost made it look like it had a miniature sandstorm inside it, ever-shifting.

There was something else too. Liya focused on the feeling; it was like the feeling of being pulled away home in her spirit form, except only in her hands. But then, it was also hard to look away. Not impossible, just difficult; it kept drawing her vision to it.

"Thank you, my khan." is what she tried to say, except it came out as a mumbled slurring, as if her tongue didn't know which way to go. She tried to step backwards, but her legs didn't move the way she meant them to, and she started to fall.

One of the guards broke rank to run up and catch her before she fell too far, taking the crystal in one hand and supporting her with the other. "Whoa, easy there," the familiar voice said. Liya looked back at the guard to see Suke's face bemused beneath the helmet. The pulling feeling in her hands had stopped, and everything else relaxed. She tried to shake off the confusion she felt and answered, "Sorry, just a little dizzy all of a sudden. It's fine now."

Suke turned to Daghatar. "Apologies, my khan. I am Suke, the scout partner of Chaka here."

He nodded. "Good, that saves the time of calling you to me and explaining. Mount up, and travel as soon as you can. Try not to make that necessary." He pointedly glanced at the crystal. "The dragons have been encroaching on our lands enough as it is; we can't afford a clan war, despite the threat."

Liya started to ask about "dragons", but before she could speak, Suke snapped a salute punctuated with "Yes, my khan!" leaving Liya to quickly copy it. Apparently judging that to be their dismissal, Suke carefully led Liya away; she followed him to the staging area of the citadel.

"What happened there? Are you alright?" he asked.

"There was something with that crystal..."

"The Ancestral Amber? What do you mean?"

"Like it was pulling me in?"

Suke looked at the crystal, bouncing it a little in his hand. "...No?"

"Maybe I was just imagining it, and I was dizzy from standing too fast or something," Liya offered. Suke laughed and clapped her on the back.

"Yeah, that's probably it. Not like you're dead or anything, walking all upright like that."

Liya stopped cold. "Sorry, what?"

Suke spun around, with a serious glare on his face. "Maybe you've been dead this whole time, and this is your eternal damnation. Forever bound to the amber of the kin-tree you're buried under. Or worse, you're still alive, and there's a malevolent spirit possessing you, trying to use your skin as a disguise." He stared at her for a moment, before he betrayed himself by laughing. "I really got you, didn't I?! You should see the look on your face! I'll remember this forever!" he sputtered between raucous laughter.

"Come on, we've got to get going," Liya said, coldly. She didn't appreciate being made fun of, even if he was technically correct. She stalked off, leaving Suke to chase after her.

"Oh come on, Chaka. I was just kidding! Wait up!"


They met up with the messenger and his mounted bear by the citadel entrance. Suke and Liya each took an ibex, and Liya requisitioned a set of armour to match Suke's. The ride from Arashin to the outer ranges of Qal Sisma took four days, which would have been shorter had the three not encountered a young dragon hunting for food. The Temur messenger, Talsu, charted a wide path to avoid it.

Once they entered the lowlands that signaled the change of territory, Talsu produced a pair of white cloths and handed them to Suke and Liya. If they held them aloft while they rode through, they would not be attacked for their clan membership alone. Suke initially showed the cloth disdain, but Liya wasn't taking any chances, and, seeing himself outnumbered, Suke relented. A good thing, too, because Talsu seemed to ride them through the center of a number of Temur encampments. The watchful eyes were hard to avoid, but they respected the symbols of peace the three rode under.

Eventually, they drew to a halt outside a mountain cave. The climb had been a challenge for the pair of ibex, but the bear showed no signs of extra fatigue. Just before entering, Talsu held his hand out to the other man, barring his entrance. "I'm sorry, but this isn't for you. I ask that you wait outside, unless called forth."

Suke didn't care for that, and was quick to make it known. "What! If you think I'm going to come all this way just to sit outside... Who knows what you're going to do to her in there?! I can't..."

Liya cut him off. "Suke. Please. I'll be fine; you know me. Just watch out for our mounts, so we can return safely. Can you do that, for me?" She was bluffing, with no actual knowledge of Chaka's skills. She had been unable to find out her abilities while under such close company, and that was concerning enough. She didn't need to incite war for her mistakes.

That seemed to do it. He still kicked the snow in frustration, but saw to the mounts without much further complaint. Liya turned to Talsu. "Please, after you."

The cave was noticeably warmer than the exterior, with the smell of smoke emanating strongly from every direction. Just past the entrance, Liya lost track of which direction they had come from, as the smoke thickened just below the point of choking. Talsu stopped just short of a banked campfire, and spoke, "Whisperer, I bring you the Abzan warrior you sought."

Liya couldn't see through the haze at first, but it seemed to clear, revealing a hooded figure seated against a wall. The walls themselves were covered in painted figures and drawings.

"You have my thanks Talsu. You may leave." The Whisperer's voice was that of an elderly woman, roughened by continued exposure to smoke.

"Are you sure? But what if she..."

"She won't. I have heard from the Unwritten, it is neither of our places to do as you fear."

"If that is your wish." Talsu shot an unreadable look at Liya and turned to exit.

The Whisperer spoke again, hand gesturing, "Your journey must have tired you. Please, be seated." Liya complied, wary but speechless. "I know some of what you are, but there is much that is still shrouded. What is your name?"

"Chaka, of the Abzan."

The hooded figure nodded. "And your name?"

"I just said..."

"I know, but if you insist, our hospitality ends here. I did not call for one of the Abzan, but another."

Liya was shocked. How much did she know exactly? "...Liya."

"It is good to meet you Liya. On behalf of the Temur clan, I extend welcome to you." Liya started to speak but the Whisperer cut ahead, "You don't have to worry. I will keep your secrets. They are imperative to the reading, and it is not my place to divulge them at whim."

Liya sighed in relief. Though she had no real reason to, she felt she could trust the older woman. She was suddenly filled with the desire to tell her everything, to finally talk about everything she had been through over the last 100 plus years. And yet, it was tempered by doubt. What if she was to blame for it all? What if, by telling someone, she would be breaking some rules that she didn't know, hurting people because of it? Ultimately, she opted for silence.

They sat there by the fire, crackling wood the only sound between them. Liya wanted to ask what was going to happen now she had come, but as soon as she made any noise, the shaman hushed her gently. After a minute or so, the shaman spoke, her words coming out soft and distant. "Guide me. Give something of yourself to the flame. Both of you."

"What should I do?"

"Anything. It need not be physical. Mayhap a secret." The Whisperer sounded a little more alert, like Liya had interrupted her trance somewhat, which made Liya wince apologetically.

Liya reached up and removed her helmet. She grabbed a few strands of Chaka's hair and, with a sharp tug, pulled them loose and surrendered them to the fire. Her own offering was more difficult. What could she even give, being a spirit? She thought for a moment, before a possible answer came to her.

Unsure if it would even work, Liya knelt closer to the fire, and whispered to it. "When I was a young girl, I had an imaginary friend named Patoo. Once, I stole a pie and blamed it on her." She had never told anyone that, and the memory made her smile at the childishness of it.

Maybe it was a trick of the light, but when Liya straightened up, it looked like the smoke had thickened. Whatever she said must have worked. Her smile slipped a little as she realised she didn't know what she had said. Something about a friend, and some food maybe? She felt fear as she tried and failed to recall the memory.

Another moment passed in silence before the Whisperer spoke again.

"You walk the stars, by forces dark pursued.

I see it in your eyes, your mind, your soul.

When dragon's spell doth aid an ancient feud,

Thou walkst the first of steps to be made whole.

 

An adversary grim leads their onslaught,

In land familiar thou shalt prepare,

The shaper is thy charge, though knows it naught,

And burden sealed in stone is thine to bear.

 

From shattered vault you fly to city-world,

A friend you seek shall see a friend in need.

The War grows near, ascendant's wings unfurl'd,

And when it's done, thy fight thou shan't concede.

 

The path is clear, the way be true, and hark!

Thy future's thine, when soul is lit by spark."

Her voice had a strange tone to it, not dissimilar to how Liya sounded to herself in spirit form. The effect was unsettling. The shaman took a deep breath as the smoke appeared to thin again. When she spoke now, her voice sounded as it had when Liya first entered.

"Take need of the words spoken here, for their significance falls to you to understand, as does the fate of the Unwritten of all the clans of Tarkir. Failing to do so ensures disaster for all."

"But what do they mean?" Liya asked.

"They are for you. Whether that means now or later, it is all the same. I can only offer this and the visions I saw: a dragon, furious and blinding; the noonday sun devoured by night; the Seeker of Power; and you bowing in service. Beyond that, the whispers of the Unwritten hold little for you. Now, you may take your leave."

Liya waited a moment before it became obvious she had been dismissed with no further conversation, so she stood and made her way to the entrance. The path seemed much shorter and clearer than it had on the way in. She reached up to shield her eyes from the harsh difference in light, and saw Suke seated next to their mounts, which had been secured with a wooden stake to the ground. Talsu stood by his bear and was the first to notice her approach.

"So, it's done then," Talsu said, a statement and not a question. Suke leapt to his feet.

"What happened in there? Are you alright?"

Despite herself, Liya laughed. After all the strangeness, Suke's behaviour was oddly reassuring. "I'm fine Suke. I'll tell you after; for now, we should be on our way, to avoid wearing out our welcome." Talsu just nodded and turned to his bear, preparing to mount up. Suke fumbled a little in the cold, but with Liya's help, they were ready soon after. Together they made their way back down the mountain and through the encampments, white cloths flying.

Talsu guided them to the territory border, and, taking back the white cloths, wished them well and parted from their company to head back into the mountains. The first time they made camp after, Suke practically cornered Liya t with what surely were all his questions and thoughts. Even if he was Chaka's compatriot, Liya felt reluctant to tell him everything that had happened, because how could he understand? She managed to fend off most of the queries by repeating the prophecy to him, though he understood it less than she did.

"One thing I know is," she said, leading the conversation to a close, "I'm going to need to learn how to fight. You can help with that, right?"

"What do you mean 'learn how'? We've been training for years!"

"I... I mean fight better. Obviously I can fight; otherwise I wouldn't have... beaten you that time?"

Suke laughed. "Ha, you wish! That was a fluke, and you know it!"

Liya laughed along with Chaka’s partner, but also in her own nervousness. She had nearly revealed herself without thinking. She'd have to be careful with everything she said in the future.


Liya crumpled under the mace's strike. She was still getting caught out by the sidestep. Still, she felt guilty over taking advantage of her abilities. Over the last week, she had managed to learn of Chaka's magic: the ability to make oneself stronger and faster.

Suke extended his arm, which Liya took gratefully, and helped her to her feet. "You're still looking too…straight forward. You need to watch everything, but without losing focus. Still, you're doing much better. We'll have you back to fighting fit in no time."

"Thanks, Suke."

"Still don't know what happened?"

Liya shook her head and continued to lie. "Whatever that shaman did to me still hasn't worn off. But as you said, I'm improving."

A slow clapping broke the moment, as Daghatar stepped into the training pit. "And yet, you show promise. I wish you had told me instead of burdening yourself with it, but there is wisdom in your actions. I confess, were I in your position, I fear my emotions would best my pragmatism." He gave a wry smile before resuming his usual manner. "Still, that isn't why I'm here. I said that you show promise, which is true as far as my eyes can see, so I would ask if you wished to train with me. That way, your skills would return to their original level, and I can hone my own in return. My usual training partners have been reluctant of late with everything going on. What do you say?"

Liya didn't know what to say. It sounded good, but she worried about keeping up her disguise under more strict scrutiny, and that left Suke by himself. Would Chaka do that to her partner?

"What about Suke?" she asked. "Could he join in too?"

One of Daghatar's eyebrows started to rise in a questioning manner before Liya added "Uh, my khan," realising she may have been too late to get away unnoticed with forgetting.

Suke made a disapproving noise and elbowed Liya in the side. "What are you saying?" he hissed.

"Ow," Liya said. "I mean, what?"

Suke turned to face her. "You've wanted to be one of the elite warriors for years. Since I knew you at least. And now that the chance is practically handed to you, you worry about me?"

A chill ran down Liya's spine. Had she messed up? "I'm just so used to having you by my side, is all."

"This is good for you. Just say yes, and don't worry about me." Suke laughed a little. "Besides, the way you fight, I'll be your commander in no time!"

His acceptance made Liya relax a little. She turned back to Daghatar, who was making an obvious point of examining the condition of the training ground around him so as not to be seen to be eavesdropping or waiting. Noticing the conversation had ended, he refocused his attention on Liya.

"My khan, I would be..." she started, before a booming crack of lightning and thunder interrupted. Liya had seen a dragon tempest before, on her trip back from the shaman, though that had been at a distance and only for a moment. Everyone knew the storms brought dragons, much like childbirth brought babies, but none knew the cause.

As the first drops of rain touched her skin, Liya knew to get ready. The storms only produced rain at the epicenter, where the dragons would descend. An organised chaos broke out within the citadel; horns blew to rally, warriors ran with purpose, collecting arms and armour to stand against the oncoming foes.

The storms usually lasted a scant moment, yet this one gave no respite, raging on for what felt like hours. Until suddenly, it stopped, calming and clearing as quickly as it had arrived, with no dragon in sight.

The collected fighting force paused, unsure what to do, a few daring to exchange puzzled glances until Daghatar called out with an uncertainty to his usual commanding tone, dismissing the assembled troops to their original positions. Suke sidled up to Liya, his eyes still peeled to the clear sky above. "I think that shaman might have been onto something after all."

Liya said nothing, just nodding. If this truly was the beginning of the prophecy, what did this mean for her?


Liya returned her sword to the rack, and rolled her stiff shoulder. Although her partner for the day's session had been one of the regular warriors and not the khan himself, the effects were still present. Daghatar's training over the past months had been a dramatic step up in intensity than what she had experienced with Suke, and at every step she had been afraid of revealing herself with her inexperience in combat. If Daghatar or any of the other elites she had been training with noticed, they had not questioned it further than the Temur shaman's magic still affecting her skills. On the bright side, her reliance on Chaka's magic for pure survival and the lie to cover her inadequacies had been diminished by her legitimate growth in combat prowess.

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A part of her wondered if she had known before what she knew now, would she have been treated the same way by the Knights of the Hallowed Order?

Unfortunately, her position as Daghatar's preferred training partner had resulted in an amount of distrust among some of the elites, who wondered why she was getting the preferential treatment over them. Liya had been transferred from the scout barracks to nicer accommodations closer to the khan, and received a commendation to justify it. On top of that, being separated from him meant that she saw Suke only in passing, or at times when she was being called and couldn't stop to rekindle the friendship, which made her feel guilty about what that meant for Chaka once she left.

She was pulled from her reverie by a messenger standing to the side, about to draw her attention. "Yes?" she asked, taking the initiative. Judging by his small shocked reaction, Liya suspected the messenger thought she had been further lost in thought than she had been, which amused her, thinking her fighting skills were more useful than expected.

"Warrior Chaka, the khan calls for your attendance by the Amber Throne." He gave a quick salute, and dashed off, presumably to carry the message to others. Liya briefly considered taking the time to change from her practice armour to something a little more comfortable, but decided that if the khan was taking audience from the throne, it was most likely something that needed more immediate attention, despite how the sweat made her skin crawl.

She walked the now familiar path to the raised seat at the base of the First Tree, in the open chamber on the roof of the fortress. There Daghatar sat, a thoughtful expression on his face as he stared into the middle distance.

"My khan, by your request, I have come," Liya announced herself, complete with the traditional salute. If nothing else, the near to a year as Chaka had been good practice for maintaining a disguise. She waited for his acknowledgement before taking a seated position in front of the throne and slightly off to the left, as social graces dictated for her standing.

Daghatar remained silent for a moment before addressing Liya. "I have received reports of a Sultai force heading directly for us. As I'm sure you know, this would not be noteworthy under normal circumstances. But with increased draconic activity closer to our outposts than ever before, it's unusual for them to travel so far without apparent cause. Then there's your prophecy."

"My khan?"

"Since you informed me of what was said at that unfortunate meeting, I've been thinking it over, trying to understand it. I believe we are at the precipice. 'When dragon's spell doth aid an ancient feud' could only refer to that strange dragon-less tempest when I asked you to train with me last year. And what is a Sultai attack if not 'An adversary grim leads their onslaught'? If this is correct, we need to take action. Your troop should get ready by tomorrow morning."

"My... troop?" Liya asked, a little confused.

Daghatar looked mildly shocked, as if not expecting her hesitance. "Yes, your troop. As the prophecy is apparently tied to you, and involves the survival of all the clans of Tarkir, not just the Houses of Abzan, you will be tasked with leading a small force to combat this threat. I cannot join you, unfortunately; my attention is required along the northern trade roads. There's been an unusual increase in dragon attacks on our supply caravans, and as strong as you are," he said, with a gentle smile, "that dark magic is still draining you from your full capabilities. The Sultai can be dangerous, but nothing you can't handle."

Liya felt a panic. This would be a task that would stretch her limits in both body and spirit, and that was before the prophecy business got rolled into it. "By your leave, my khan. I need to assemble my soldiers, then."

"Traversing the sand wastes is no small order for the regular forces; take a scouting contingent with you."

Liya nodded, and saluted once more, rising to her feet. She knew just the man for the job.

Travelling through the desert was never easy, but it was made worse by Suke's reluctance to talk. Liya thought that even on the job, as it were, having the chance to be together again would be good, but any time she attempted to get close to him, he found a reason to get away; be it needing to issue orders to his scout team or insisting on taking point in directing the collected soldiers. She could see the bluff ahead that the tactician had picked for an intercept with the Sultai; their archers would have prime position from the elevation, and it was easily defensible in the case of close combat.

Before she had noticed, Suke drew up next to her on his ibex. "We need to talk," he said, indicating with his head an area off to the side, away from the others. His voice sounded odd, almost choked, like he was holding back anger or tears.

Liya started to talk, "Suke, it's good to see you again. How's your training been...?"

"Cut the shit, Chaka! Do you have any idea what you've done to me?!"

"What?"

"Oh, don't act like you don't know! We were together for four years! I was going to ask you to marry me! And now, NOW, as soon as Daghatar shows an interest, you offer yourself on a silver plate, with not even a thought!"

"That's not..." Liya protested. Suke continued to yell, oblivious or just not caring about the crowd starting to take notice.

"SHUT UP! I don't believe anything you say anymore! Stupid me, here I was thinking 'Oh it's just a mistake, she wouldn't just abandon you after everything you've had,’ but you never once, NOT ONCE, came back to me. NOT ONCE did you talk to me instead of him. You... whore!"

Liya stared, shocked to speechlessness by his words. She didn't even notice she had punched him until it was done, blood already streaming from his nose. Instead of fighting back, or shouting more, he just laughed. It wasn't the warm, friendly laugh she remembered, but once of bitterness and cruelty.

"So, I see how it is. That's fine; you enjoy being the saviour of Tarkir or whatever. I'm leaving." He wiped some of the blood from his face with a gauntleted hand and flung it at Liya in a show of disrespect. He mounted his ibex once more and turned to ride away, with a shrill whistle to signal his scout team to join him. He stopped, just on the outskirts of the area they had been in, and looked back. "I thought you loved me," he said sadly, before turning away and riding off. Some of the warriors Liya had chosen to join her rode with him, amidst comments of "That's what you get," and "I always thought..."

Liya just watched them leave, despair hitting her like a stone. One of the remaining warriors, a woman maybe around her age if not a little younger, walked over to lend her support. "Come on, don't cry. We still have a job to do."

"I'm not crying," Liya said, before realising she was. Or at least, her body was, experiencing a more powerful sadness than she felt. Could Chaka hear what happened? Did she know?

A distant horn blew, announcing the Sultai attackers. Liya issued commands as best she could given her inexperience. The loyal warriors filled in the gaps where they could, allowing for what they interpreted as Liya's distress to cover any missteps. She might not know as much as they did, but even she could tell it wasn't going to be enough, unless they got very lucky. She could see now, they had needed the full force they had initially brought. The scouts leaving was bad, but the defectors of the main force were the killing blow. As if to compound the bad day she was having, the skies opened up in a rare rainstorm. At least it wasn't a dragon tempest.

The Sultai forces were visible now, despite the rain. Undead horrors shambling, nagas slithering, and humans starting to run. And at the forefront, a cloaked figure in black leading the charge. With a cry of "Abzan!" Liya joined the fray.

Fated Clash.png

She swung her sword in now-familiar motions, using magic to reinforce when an errant strike looked like it would hit, allowing her to take the blow with ease. And still, the enemy swarmed. Her soldiers cleared around her, taking some of the pressure off, pressing forward where they could, but ultimately allowing the enemy to approach as was the Abzan way. The cloaked figure cut through one, Liya thought it was the woman from earlier, but wasn't sure in the melee, and spotted her. They broke into a sprint at the sight of her, and Liya took a defensive stance. Their swords clashed in fluid motion, a dance of death in which neither could afford a misstep.

Liya dodged and parried, locking blades with the enemy so that neither could safely disengage. The movement allowed her to see into the cloak; the man fighting her looked sick. His skin was soft and showed signs of decay, almost seeming to be falling off in places, but unlike the other undead she had faced, his eyes showed a dangerous light of intelligence and awareness about them.

"Finally," he growled, barely audible above the rain and battle. "I've found you, Liya." The emphasis on her name was impossible to miss.

"What? Who are...?” Liya started to ask before the ground erupted in a blast of light.

She was sure she had blacked out for a second, but tried to regain her footing. Injured, she stood before a descending dragon. The cloaked man had been blown further away, as had the majority of both sides of the conflict. She saw him stand up, look at the dragon, then back to her, before giving her a jaunty wave and vanishing in a veil of shadow. She could feel an echo of a pulse within her chest. That same power that allowed her to travel to other worlds had reacted to his disappearance. Does that mean he's like me? she wondered.

The dragon landed with a heavy thud, while an aven man floated down elegantly next to it. The dragon spoke in an unintelligible rumble, while the aven translated. "So, those that call themselves Abzan indulge in necromancy alongside their Sultai brethren. Mistress Dromoka will need to be informed. She had planned to be lenient on the others, but this news will distress her so."

One of the warriors spoke up. "What do you mean necromancy? We do nothing of the sort!"

"Oh?" The aven asked on behalf of the dragon. "Then why do you consort with the undead?" And the dragon raised one clawed talon and pointed it at Liya. "This cannot be allowed to continue. Your sentence has been decided." The dragon reared back, and, to a one, breathed its deadly breath of light across all present on the battlefield, Sultai and Abzan alike. None, save the dragon and its attendant, were spared.

Liya opened her eyes, not realizing she had been bracing for the impact. She was back in her own form, her spiritual body floating over an area of baked sand. Looking around, she could see the spirits of each of the warriors that had remained with her, equally puzzled. Clearly, they had not expected to die quite so suddenly. The dragon and the aven were already flying away. One of the warriors looked over at her and, with a similar spiritual echo, asked, "What did you do?"

She had doomed them all, yet all she could say was, "I'm sorry." She looked to her right, and there was Chaka, seen for the first time from the outside since Liya had arrived on this world. She could feel the pulling of her soul reclaiming itself to her home, yet she didn't fight it. She just kept saying "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" over and over until she was back home again. She floated under the shade of the tree that marked her grave, and wept.

Dream A Little Dream - A Planeswalker Story

"Starfield of Nyx" - Tyler Jacobson

"Starfield of Nyx" - Tyler Jacobson

by Antitonic

LIYA

The gentle coastal breeze from the Siren Sea blew through the grasslands on the outskirts of Meletis, disturbing the leaves of nearby trees before reaching into the star-filled night sky. Without a sound, Liya’s spectral form faded into the plane. She was struck by the intensity of the night for a moment before resolving herself to her task. First: reach out to sense a compatible host that could be reached before her time was up. Second: assess any abilities she might temporarily gain as a visitor to this place. Third: find out her host’s personal details so to better fit in as their replacement.

She closed her eyes and felt the odd sensation of her consciousness spread out into the immediate area. If there was no one near enough, she would waste too much time in flying around to find someone. There, on the edge of her periphery. It would be close, but she could make it. Liya willed herself forward, towards the essence she had sensed. Over the hill, a small house appeared as she traveled, humble and surrounded by farmland. It was familiar in a way, and completely different in others. As she got close to the house, Liya felt the familiar pull in the core of her being; she was at the limit of how long she could stay without a host. With the feeling of a lunge, her vision went dark.

Liya opened her eyes, and stared at the ceiling. Her entire body felt heavy and ached in a way she hadn’t felt in a long time. Just sitting up took an extreme effort, but she persisted. The room was simple, but felt massive, as her sense of scale was out of alignment. Concentrating on the smoky feeling inside her, she summoned her Spectral Mirror.

Spectral Mirror.png

With a shock, she realised her host body couldn’t be more than three years old! Blonde hair grew past her shoulders, and her features still bore the puffiness of baby fat, but despite this the young girl she had control of had the buried looks of someone who could be a real head turner in a few years. Liya contemplated finding a new host, but previous experience had taught her that even if there was another compatible person within her range, she was never as strong as she could be with her initial choice; their magic never worked quite right, or they would suffer physically from Liya’s presence.

On that point, she decided that it was time for the next step: testing abilities. Gingerly, she tried to get down from the bed. In her current form, it felt like climbing a mountain! With the unsteady wobble of someone unused to the act of walking or standing unaided, Liya made her way to the door. It was as simple as the rest of the building, without a lock or even a handle, so she quietly pushed it open, pausing for a moment to maintain her tenuous balance.

The new room kept the same rustic simplicity as the one she had just exited, and Liya couldn’t help but be reminded of her own home a lifetime ago; a pair of wooden chairs around a hearth, with a simple cooking area next to it, and a wooden blanket on the floor, presumably for her host, all magnified to her eyes due to her diminutive form. Another bare door to the side concealed a tandem of snoring sounds, one rough and one more petite. My parents, I suppose, Liya thought.

The door to the exterior had a handle the others lacked, and her limited strength proved it to be closed. Liya thought for a moment before toddling over to the blanket. Dragging it towards the chairs was a hard task, but she was committed now. Using all her strength, she pulled back on the chair, lifting the front legs just enough to land on top of the blanket. Her breathing quickened by the labour, she repositioned the blanket to repeat the act with the back legs, which would be harder. Every part of her was begging to stop, but she couldn’t leave things in the state they were in, though she did allow herself a brief rest, rubbing her arms and legs to help relieve the ache.

Now, pushing the chair would not only be easier for her tiny frame, but would also not scrape against the floor, waking her caretakers. With no small amount of effort, Liya moved the chair to the door, climbed up to the seat, and reached for the handle. Luck was with her, as although it was closed, there was no lock, and it swung open with the barest creak. Letting go before losing her footing entirely, Liya scrambled down and stumbled outside. The night air was crisp with the chill of early spring, and Liya regretted her choice of expediency. Barefoot, she made her way down the path to put some distance between herself and the house. From experience, some abilities could be more impactful than others.

Feeling both confident in the distance and too tired to press on, Liya concentrated and focused within. She raised her hand to the sky, and channeled magic, like she had done years prior in the fortress of the Knights of the Hallowed Order.


Nothing


No torrential storm answered her call. No gouts of flame or blasts of ice. Not even a spark of light. She could feel power within, she just couldn’t unlock it no matter how she tried.

Is there something I’m missing? Is whoever she is not old enough yet? Liya thought, puzzled. Maybe I can only use magic on Melenas, like I can only be free there?

Which is when the shimmering rope wrapped around her waist, and pulled her upward towards and into the night sky. She tried to scream, but no sound came out. The ground below quickly disappeared beneath clouds and starry blackness. Gradually, her momentum slowed and stopped, leaving her suspended in midair. Coalescing from the darkness around her was the remainder of the rope, followed by an ethereal hand. She could see now it wasn’t a rope, but a golden-handled whip. The hand wielding it led to an arm, and so on, revealing a giant figure, even by the standards of Liya at her normal size.

Erebos.png

The figure appeared masculine but made of stars, with horns extending from their head and armoured pauldrons. It pulled the whip in and grasped Liya in a firm hand. An awful noise filled her mind as the figure spoke. If there were words there, Liya didn’t understand them. The figure shook her in its hand and there was more painful noise. After a moment of no answer the figure turned and waved its free hand in a circular motion, and a spiraling portal opened in the field of stars like a whirlpool. Through it, Liya could see a hooded man bent over a metal bowl on a pedestal. The man stood up straight and faced the portal, and she could see his eyes had the blank stare of the blind.

“Claim of Erebos” - Zack Stella

“Claim of Erebos” - Zack Stella

“My Lord, what do you require of me?” he asked, addressing the giant figure. Liya could hear no response, but after a moment, the man spoke again.

“Mortal, you bear witness to Erebos, God of the Dead, and keeper of the Underworld. He says that you are one of His, yet not, and you contain multitudes. In accordance with the laws than govern, the one addressed will now be divided.”

The giant’s other hand moved over the top of Liya and pinched nothing. The hand then pulled up, and with intense screaming pain, Liya was removed from her host. The girl started to stir in the giant’s grasp, until the man in the portal waved his hand, which shimmered with silver light, and she went limp.

“Now, you will explain yourself. How is it you cannot hear the words of the gods?”

Liya tried to will herself to pull away, but she remained in place. With resignation, she spoke, addressing the god. “I’m not from here. I don’t even really know where here is.” Her words had the ghostly echo she had come to recognise. “I’m just a visitor to this place, and if you let me go, I promise I won’t come back.”

The god spoke to her again, more painful noise, and the man translated.

“Interloper. You have gall to boast of unearned freedom to the God of the domain you rightfully belong to, and His humble oracle. It is by Erebos’s will that you remain here for now, and not condemned to the Underworld which is your place. You say that you come from another place, yet He has no knowledge of you throughout all of Theros. How is this?”

“I’m honestly not sure. When I was killed...” Liya hesitated a moment, caught by a flash of memory. “When I was killed, I found myself thrown across a wide sea of stars without meaning, in the form you see me now. After years of practice, I was able to travel this sea, and this place is one of those stars.”

Both the god and the oracle were silent for a time in private discussion before the oracle addressed Liya again.

“What you claim is impossible, but there is no deception in your words. You could traverse to these stars again?” Liya simply nodded. “My Lord Erebos has a task for you then, star-wanderer. You will be allowed to leave as you wish, if you guide all lost and lingering souls you encounter to His embrace, be they long departed or new to the... situation.”

“Absolutely yes. Whatever you need.

“Your task will commence when it is your time here. This will be known to you. Until then, I suggest for your sake, you take it upon yourself to learn what it is you must do in service, for once your task begins, there will be no leniency for one who has escaped death’s clutches.”

With that, the god released the hand restraining Liya, and fighting the pulling sensation of her spirit trying to return home, she pushed her way into the young girl again, eyes fluttering open as she assumed control.

“I’ll do my best.” she said, her speech slightly slurred by the infant mouth.

“Do better.” The oracle replied with a smirk that bordered on a sneer as the portal closed, leaving Liya in the god’s grasp. He turned in the direction they had come from, and threw her. Screaming from the sudden velocity, she passed out.

“...ka! Myka! What in Heliod’s name are you doing outside!?” Liya was shaken awake with a start, facing a woman who could be her mother. Similar nose, and eyes.

“Wha... my name...?” Liya started, confused before her vision suddenly jerked to the side, and pain bloomed across her cheek, as the woman slapped her.

“I told you Myka, you’re not well! You can play when you’re better, but not now!”

Liya clenched her jaw, trying not to cry even if her host body really wanted to. “I wasn’t...” The woman raised her hand again, but it was caught by a man standing over her.

“Kalliopi, don’t. She’s only three, what will this accomplish?” The man asked with a calm, yet firm tone.

“I don’t want to hear it, Mynos. She should learn!” The woman answered, still with the vigour of anger, but starting to temper.

“And she can do that in her time. Now though, we should get her inside before it gets worse.”

As she was led back to the simple house, Liya looked behind her at the night sky. No looming figures chased her, but when she looked hard, she thought one of the stars blinked at her.

SPIROS

What’s that?

Sure, Setessan wine is hard to get this side of Phoberos.

Are you sure?

Well that’s mighty kind of you friend! What’s the occasion?

...Oh.

I was wondering when this might come up.

Yes, okay, look, it’s a very nice drink, I just...

No, wait. ...Come back.

Okay, fine. I know I shouldn’t be using it, but...

Oh, you mean...?

...Right. From the beginning. It’s been a while though, so I might not get everything right. But I remember enough.

Not like I could forget something like that.

So, this? This all started when I was a kid. Like, about as far back as I can remember. I must have been about five or six, I think? She was a couple of years younger.

Myka, yeah, that was her name. You know her?

Guess not then. Anyway, where was I? Yes, so Myka caught the Bloodfire, and I remember everyone was worried that it might spread, but mostly they'd already written her off for dead, you know? So...

What? Oh, Bloodfire is a kind of fever. It makes you weak, then burns you out from the inside. Hard to cure, even if you have the money for the medicine. The worst part is others can catch it too, so most of the time it's easier to just lock someone away and forget about them until... you know.

Yeah, it's pretty bad. Anyway. So there's Myka, only three, and already in her last days from the fever. One night, she gets outside which is just remarkable given how sick she was, and she wanders into the fields, right? Next thing, she's screaming and on the ground, which attracts attention. Her mother and father picked her up, and took her home. This is when it starts getting weird. Well, weirder. The next day, no sign of the Bloodfire. Like she'd never been sick a day in her life.

Now, me being a kid, of course I got told to stay away, but do you think I'd listen? I was around asking her to play whenever I could! Still one thing that sticks at me. Myka was always a bit of a crybaby, but after that, she was more... with it, I guess? She still didn't want to play at first, but the first thing she wanted was a book. Ha, it seems so silly now looking back, but I made her swear she'd play the next day if I got her a book. I think she was going to cry when she realised that she didn't know how to read! But being the gentleman that I am, even back then, I volunteered to teach her. Sure, I didn't know much myself, but all I had to do was stay one step ahead of her, and I'd sound like a genius, right?

So that didn't work. Well, at first it did, but she was so much smarter than me! She started asking her father for help, and when that wasn't enough, she was asking to go to the library like every day. She tried to get me to go with her a few times, but I wasn't the most diligent student. I had my own goals in mind, even then.

LIYA

Learning to read was harder than she thought. There hadn’t been much opportunity to do so when she was alive, because what good would reading do when you need to harvest the fields? She had managed to pick up enough to get by, but she wasn’t what you would consider fluent. And now she had to learn a new language at the same time? Luckily she could understand the verbal part, otherwise it could very well be impossible.

The neighbour boy, Spiros, kept asking her to play. It was annoying, but she was supposed to be a child as well, so she begrudgingly cooperated from time to time. There was a lot of running and chasing, but after hearing Spiros talk about his dreams of being a hero in the army like his grandfather, it made sense. As long as she could find what she needed, helping him worked in everyone’s favour.

Rigorous Study.png

Not that she had expected to find anything, but there was no mention of other worlds anywhere she looked. Either no one like her had ever come here, or more likely, they just didn’t make it known. It made sense, who knows what people would do if they knew about other worlds besides their own. Liya had seen war over a fraction of land, no one deserved to have that at the scale of multiple worlds. What she had learned among other things was the mythology of Theros. Or is it closer to history, given gods are real? Liya wondered, pouring through countless words.

Between her studies, and her playtime with Spiros and other local children, Liya had also discovered how her host, Myka’s magic worked. The trick was making it work where it counted. Normally, Liya would remain aware and present while her host rested, but she had learned of the realm of Nyx, home of the gods, and its link to dreams. It had been so long since she had slept, it took a few weeks to learn how to do it again. It was a surreal feeling, because she could she herself in her ghostly form tied to Myka’s sleeping form by a golden light. When Liya moved, Myka copied it as best she could, but had no presence of being there herself. When asleep, Myka’s magic paired with Liya’s imagination to conjure fantastical creatures. But until recently, she had no luck making it work in the waking world. Focusing on the feeling of using magic, Liya managed to bring one of these creatures with her, although nowhere as impressive as it had been in her dreams, and lingered but moments before fading in a sparkle of stardust. She also discovered a similar ability to imbue objects with magic, but it lasted less. Unsure of how people would react, she kept this information to herself, resolved to practice as best she could while keeping up her studies and disguise appearance.

Liya-Myka Dreamer of Erebos.png

SPIROS

Ah, my thanks friend. I was getting a little parched.

Are you alright? You look a little unwell.

Okay, okay! No need to bite my head off like a hydra or something! I was just concerned.

Anyway, so where was I? Oh yeah. So there’s Myka with her nose in books, and there I am playing around. Not that I never learned to read or anything, but it was around then I insisted I wanted to be a soldier like my grandpa. He was a hero, you know. The local garrison took a bunch of us in for some training to eventually move up once we were of age. Nothing too hard, you know, just some basic stuff that kids could handle. So this went on for a couple years. I would’ve been 9 I think? It was the coronation.

Myka? Around 5 or 6. Weird to ask, but fine...

Anyway, from what we were told, there were so many declarations and things to scribe that the royal service was stretched thin, so they grabbed a group of us that could read and write, and for pretty good coin, put us to work transcribing all sorts of things. Letters mostly, but anything that fell through.

We were talking and having fun as we could, because we’re still kids, then out of nowhere Myka goes dead quiet. It took me a moment to notice, but I asked her what was wrong. She showed me the letter she was working on.

“So happy to hear about your son, I hope he enjoys the hat we sent! It should be quality enough to last the rest of his life. Per your last letter: yes, Aunt Phera can get Gavriil some more oil if he needs it, but you know her back, she’d need some help making it. If he’s fit enough for it, next feast day would be fine. Bring wine! - N.”

So I asked what her problem was. She pulled me aside and said that the king was in danger, and we had to do something. I guess I looked confused, because she got very annoyed with me and went through it bit by bit. Turns out all that reading was good for something. If she was reading it right, she said, someone was going to poison the new king at the coronation, probably with wine, in Pharika’s name. I tried to get a word in edgewise, but you know how girls are, right buddy? She kept going on about how that’s not Pharika’s intent, and anyone who believes it is going against the teachings, and so on.

I tried to stop her, but she showed the letter to the head scribe who was overseeing our group. He didn’t believe it, saying we were trying to get out of work, or that we were just uneducated children so what could we know. Myka stormed out, practically dragging me with her. I wanted to fight her about it, but there was just something to her. Gods help me, I believed her. She told me to grab a sword and meet with her on the coronation day. Now I hadn’t handled anything stronger than a wooden practice blade at that point, so I was unsure, but again, just something there. So I did it. I borrowed...

No, not stole, BORROWED, I gave it back, borrowed a sword. The crowd had gathered, but that’s a useful thing about kids is that we could get through and around them. From the archways, we watched the whole thing: the old king abdicating to his son, the new king swearing oath, and receiving his retainers in turn. Even for a kid, it felt grand.

Look, not that I’m talking myself up, but I spotted it before she did: the table of gifts from visiting dignitaries. A single bottle of wine among the jewels and everything, hand-sealed. I tugged on her dress and pointed at it, she put a finger to her lips and entered the room. I followed her, trying to be as quiet as I could, but she was as silent as the grave. Ooh, maybe a poor choice of words. You get what I mean though.

We got about halfway before it was presented to the king, with a glass poured offering a sample. Myka screamed out “No!” and then did something. I don’t know what exactly, but suddenly an armoured man, but made of stars, appeared and attacked the tray with a sword that was also stars.

I swear it, I’m not making it up. As soon as he appeared, he was gone. Myka was breathing heavy. She said “Can you keep a secret?” and I said “Sure.” She closed her eyes for a moment and held her hands out to my sword, it was hard to see, but there was a glow to the edge of it. Dark, but still glowing. "Just in case." she said. Like she knew.

Amidst the chaos that had erupted, a man grabbed us, and hissed “What are you doing!? That was my gift!” And without a shred of fear, Myka asked if his name was Gavriil. That scared him, to the point that if this wasn’t a true story, this would be where I'd say his eyes popped out of his fat little head!

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“How did you...” he started, but Myka was already calling out, speaking to the whole crowd. “This man is an assassin, sent to kill the king!” The crowd burst into shouts and talking and all that before the king called for silence.

“Do you have proof?” he asked, but Myka shook her head. “Not really, but by his own admission, he provided that gift. That wine is poisoned. Let him drink some first to prove his guilt.”

“That’s absurd! I would never...!” Gavriil started before the king and Myka cut him off at the same time with a “Quiet!”. The king looked at Myka sadly. “These are serious allegations to level at one in power, little one. How sure are you?”

She looked back at me for a moment, and whispered something. To this day I still don’t know what it was, not for sure, but part of me thinks it was “I’m sorry.” Turning to face the king, she said “This sure.” and with a speed I can’t imagine where it came from, she grabbed the bottle and took a drink.

You know how in stories they say time slowed down? That’s what it felt like. Looking back, it’s like a series of paintings: I see the king jumping to his feet to stop her; I see Myka, clearly in pain, clutching her stomach; I can see myself pulling out of Gavriil’s grip to weave through the crowd to help.

She was bleeding from the mouth and coughing when I reached her, even in such a short time. I could faintly hear commotion of the crowd, and the king calling for guards as Gavriil tried to flee, but that wasn’t where my focus was. All I could see was my friend, dying.

“I hate the dying part.” she said between laboured breaths. “What do you mean?” I asked. She coughed again, spraying me with blood I didn’t notice. “Doesn’t matter. I’m going now, but in a second I’ll be very confused. Just stay with me, alright?”

“What’s going on, I don’t understand!”

She just smiled as her eyes closed. “You want to know another secret?” She opened her eyes and looked straight at me. “You can do it too.” And there was a mischievous knowing in her smile.

Of course, I didn’t know what she meant then. But at that moment, and I see this in my dreams still, I could almost see another person, a woman laid over her, faint and slightly blue. Whoever she was disappeared slowly, and I felt a crushing sadness, but I don’t think it was just because my friend was dying. See, I talked to some of the other people that were there that day. Nearly everyone felt that sadness, and some said that they saw the woman in Myka, but not everyone.

She blinked after that and asked what was going on, and she sounded younger. Like she said, she was confused, but she didn’t have long. Another cough, and that was it.

...Sorry, needed a moment. Anyway, long story short, we were both commended by the king for saving his life, though Myka’s was posthumous. Her parents got a hefty sum for Myka’s efforts and for their loss, and I got a good word or two put in for me with the army. Basically, I got what I wanted, but I still feel bad.

Huh? Oh yeah! So I wondered about that too. The “You can do it too” thing. I felt it when she did it, but only a little. I tried doing it like she did, but it didn’t work right. But with some practice...

Yeah, impressive isn’t it? That’s a genuine enchanted sword. It’s supposed to be like gold or silver, but I can’t get rid of that black bit. But maybe I don’t want to.

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Hey, where are you going? I’ve got some other stories if you like, or...

Okay, fine. Half-dead looking…


LIYA

She hated leaving him like that, but at least her gift would find its way to him in time. She hadn’t noticed the wine, because she was listening to her god. “Come to me, my servant.” he said, whispering on air. “The time has come for you to commence your duties as my shepherd among the stars.” After that, the pieces fell into place, and even though Liya hated every part of it, that was the only way it could work. She had learned that Myka had died the night she came to this world, of the fever she had "recovered from", persisting through Erebos's will for Liya to do what was needed. Even then, at the end she considered disregarding her word, jumping hosts, and staying around to help Spiros, but there was part of her that pulled her away. Not in the manner she was used to, but in the sense of a job done and yet to do. So she left, to attend her task in whatever new destination would follow.

Once Was Lost - A Planeswalker Story

by Antitonic

Over the sun-parched plains and badlands of Melenas, the nations of Faiqas and Ars-Sara have stood at the brink of war for generations over resources and land. The brewing tensions have finally come to a head in recent months, and many able-bodied men from both sides of the conflict have been consigned to their doom over the squabbles of the upper class who have little personal stake. Between these two nations stands the Hallowed Order: a coalition of knights who alone control mystical forces, limiting the use of magic to their own number, and punishing those who do not belong among them.


Liya al-Amundi looked at the sky, frowning. The clouds spoke of an oncoming storm, and food was already hard to come by in quantity due to most of the season's crops being passed to the frontline. It had already been three months since the king's officers had ridden through, grabbing any able-bodied man to fight under the banner of Faiqas with the threat of conscription. Some went gladly, proud to serve. Others, reluctant to leave their families, attempted to argue their position but to no avail. Liya's husband, Sadi el-Tunar was one of the latter; unwilling to leave his wife and, at the time, unborn son unless forced. For the first month of his enlistment, Sadi and Liya exchanged letters via courier; Sadi explaining the terrible conditions of camp and the absurdities of military life, while Liya passed on the news of the birth of Anwar el-Sadi, their son, and whatever she could think of to lighten his mood. The letters had not arrived since then, nor had hers been received as best she could tell, so she worried.

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For now though, Liya jostled the small basket of vegetables she had gathered and traded to a more comfortable position, and made her way to the home of Anwar's keepers, an elderly couple who sympathised with her position and had made great effort to assist her. She gave way and made a curtsy to the Knight of the Hallowed Order as he passed on patrol, but he paid her no mind. The Knights had travelled to both kingdoms to act as peacekeepers in the stead of the war, but many found their protection more trouble than it was worth. They expected much, gave little, and were quick and harsh in their justice.

Having greeted the couple and given a squash that she knew they were fond of, Liya returned home, Anwar nestled in her arms, to prepare the evening meal. The broth was boiling nicely when the door burst open. Liya turned with a start; a man stood there, a stranger to her, his eyes gleaming maliciously from behind the veil obscuring the rest of his face. The clothes were light but well-worn, in a distinctive style that, combined with the relatively pale features visible, led to only one conclusion: a deserter from the Ars-Sara side of the war. Liya made a movement to stand in front of Anwar's cradle but the man was faster, pulling a dagger from within the clothes and pointing at her before she could move.

"Ah ah ah, not so fast lovely." The man's eyes turned to take in Anwar's presence. "Wouldn't want the wee one to get hurt over your mistake, now would we?"

"Don't hurt him., Liya pleaded, in no more than a whisper as tears began to well. "I'll do anything, just don't hurt him." The man laughed coarsely.

"Anything, is it? Let's just see. Normally I wouldn't bother with rats like you, but I've recently... come into my own, as it were. So here's what I need for a start: You're going to get me a change of clothes, and I could use a good meal. As flattering as this garment is, it's a little conspicuous around these parts."

"And then you'll leave?"

"Nah, that's just the start, lovely. I'll leave when I'm good and ready." The man jabbed the air in Liya's direction, and she flinched. "Hurry up then!"

Liya scrambled around her home, not wanting to look at the intruder, but not daring to look away as she collected an outfit that belonged to Sadi. She handed it over, reaching out as far as she could to keep as much distance as possible. A strange pressure was building inside her, as if around her heart, but Liya disregarded it for more pressing concerns. The man snatched the clothes from her hand, and Liya yelped.

"Quiet down! You don't want to draw that Knight on us, or you'll wish you hadn't, rat!" The man shrugged out of his clothes, and worked on putting on Sadi's.

"Now how about that meal? I'm sure I can stomach whatever you rats eat, so I'll just take that."

Liya could barely hear what the man was saying, the blood was pumping through her ears due to the adrenaline, and something snapped. She grabbed the broth pot from the fire, and, as soon as the man's head poked through the shirt, she flung its contents at his face, aiming for the eyes. The man screamed in pain. Liya had missed blinding him, but there was damage done, and she started screaming to alert everyone, anyone who could hear. From the window, Liya could just hear above the pained yells, came the sound of armour striking against itself: the Knight was rushing to her aid.

"Oh, you'll pay for that, bitch!" The man swore through a clenched jaw, before he froze for a second and started to grin cruelly. "Want to see a trick?" he asked, before spinning the blade around, and stabbing himself in the shoulder. He screamed again in pain, as the Knight broke down the door.

"What goes?!" The Knight demanded, spearpoint darting between the two.

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Before Liya had time to respond, the man shouted through a pained expression, "This demon used magic on me! She made my skin boil and made a knife fly though the air!" A peal of thunder rang out and the downpour began. The Knight shifted the spear to point solely in Liya's direction.

"For the crime of possessing unlawful magic, you are under arrest by the authority of the Hallowed Order."

"B-but I didn't...! I can't..."

"Cease your protestations! This man has been injured, and he certainly didn't do it to himself. Now come with me." The Knight grabbed Liya by the arm and started pulling her out of the house.

"No! My baby!" Liya screamed, kicking and trying to pull away. Despite the rain, a small crowd had gathered around to see what the commotion was about. The Knight pointed to one of the bystanders with his spear.

"You! You know this woman?"

The woman he had pointed out flinched, and said "Y-yes Ser Knight. And I want to say..."

"SILENCE! Do not dare to question authority, or you'll be joining her. I charge you to take this infant into your care." The woman ran in and swept up Anwar into her arms, who at this point had awoken and started crying.

The Knight spoke up to the crowd. "Let it not be said the Hallowed Order is not without mercy or justice. Disperse, or face that justice!" He poked Liya in the back painfully, with the spear tip. "Move, or be moved."

The rain was making the paths a burden to travel, but for all the trouble Liya had in keeping her footing or pulling her way through mud, the Knight showed no sign of being affected. Faces of people she knew peered out of houses, in shock at the sight of one of their own being treated in such a fashion. Shortly outside of town, a cart pulled by a sturdy-looking horse and containing three more Knights waited on the road. One held up a gauntleted hand, face obscured by a full helmet, like his fellows.

"Hail Ser Kirna. We received your missive, and await the prisoner."

The Knight escorting Liya raised his hand in response. "Then the charges have been prepared and no time should be squandered." One of the Knights in the cart stepped down to bind Liya's hands. She tried to fight, but a sharp knock to the back of her head left her dizzy, and before she could recover, her hands and legs were tied, and she was gagged, blindfolded, her head covered with a sack, and tossed without care into the back of the cart.


The travel to the fortress of the Hallowed Order was far from pleasant. Not once over the course of two weeks was Liya unbound or unblindfolded. While the Knights made camp and prepared food, Liya was confined to the cart and given barely anything. Occasionally she was given a drink of water, barely quenching her thirst, and twice in the journey she was forcefully fed over-salted meat. The hunger pangs were maddening, and Liya drifted in and out of consciousness. Eventually, they arrived at the Order's fortress. Liya was half-dragged to a central chamber and finally unblindfolded. As her eyes adjusted, the chamber was dark; torches lining the outside had been snuffed out moments earlier, judging by the smoke curling from some of them. Seated around the chamber were five Knights in more ornate varieties of the armour the others wore.

"For the record, your name." One of the Knights, a woman by the sound of her voice, stated from her chair. At first, Liya said nothing, until she felt a sharp jab in her back from a spear.

"Liya."

"Your full name."

"Liya al-Amundi."

One of the other seated Knights spoke up. "Liya al-Amundi, you stand accused of unlawful use of the arcane. Your punishment is to be death."

"But I'm innocent!" Liya yelled, frantically. The pressure around her heart had grown, almost unbearably.

"That is not up to the question. Our ruling is final."

"Then let me join you! I wouldn't be unlawfully possessing magic if I was a Knight!"

"Our Order has adequate strength presently, and your state says you would be a poor fit. Judgment stands."

The first Knight spoke again. "You shall be hanged by the neck until dead one week hence. You shall be shunned from any light until your dying day, and your soul shall be forfeit."

Liya screamed and started to fight against against the grip of the Knight standing beside her, before a blunt impact struck her in the head and she fell unconscious once more.


True to their word, the Knights held Liya in a stone chamber without any light for what would seem to be the last week of her life. She screamed until hoarse, and cried throughout, unable to resist in her weakened state when the Knights delivered a meagre meal. Her rest was minimal due to the hard stone floor, so the final day came without fanfare.

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Unable to tell what time it was in her confinement, Liya was roughly shaken awake by a Knight, taken from her chamber, and marched at spearpoint up several flights of carved stairs. The one advantage of imprisonment, that she could tell, was that she was able to see in the total darkness engineered for her through the use of blankets over windows and blocking of corridors. Eventually she was led to a small room with doors on either side. A Knight stood by the far door, a bundle in their hands.

"Change." The bundle thrust into Liya's arms was revealed to be a surprisingly elegant white silk dress. In any other circumstance, it would have been breathtakingly beautiful.

"I don't understand," Liya said, her voice still rough from screaming in vain.

"It is tradition. Worry not, you won't need it long."

Liya paused for a moment, waiting to see if the Knight would give her some privacy or a modicum of decency, but there was none to be found. The dress was perhaps a little snug in the chest and a little loose on the hip, but Liya hadn't expected it to be tailored. The fact that it fit as well as it did was surprising enough. Once she had finished, the Knight spoke again, as if following a script.

"You go now to your end, adorned in righteousness. See now what your sins have denied you forever more." With that, the Knight opened the door, and Liya was blinded. After a few stumbling forced steps, her eyes finally started to clear. For the first time in weeks, she could see the sun shining down, and the intensity of it caused her eyes to water. From around the edges of the fortress ramparts, she could see out over the valleys. It was beautiful. In the center of the courtyard stood the gallows, a grim spectre marring what would have been worthy of a work of art. Step by step, Liya was pushed towards it, every inch of her being begging her to run or to do something, but she couldn't. All she could do was walk.

Step.

Step.

The pressure in her chest had built up so much it was painful. Liya wondered distantly if that would kill her before the hanging did, as a small mercy. Standing by the noose was yet another Knight, but instead of the silver and white of the others, this Knight was clad in armour of pitch black. They were rough in tightening the noose around her neck, and Liya was turned away to face the sun.

Anwar, Sadi, she thought, I love you. She closed her eyes. It took only a moment, but it felt like an age was passing. The creak of the lever, the feel of sudden weightlessness, a sharp pain in the neck, the release of pressure from within, a pulling feeling, and the cessation of sound.

Liya kept her eyes tightly shut for a moment, gradually opening them in confusion. Thick jungle covered the land below her, and volcanic ash floated through the air from distant peaks. She looked down, and, to her shock, found she wasn't standing on anything, but floating, in midair. The bigger concern was that she could see through her body. Her arms, her legs, the dress, they all appeared transparent, with a light-blue tinge. Like looking through stained glass. In shock, she raised her hands to her face. She could still feel herself. Same with touching her left arm and hand with the right.

"What's happening?" she asked aloud. Her voice had a faint echo to it that was new, but sounded the same to her otherwise. The pressure that had been building inside was still there, but it had changed. Before, it felt like a ball of water around her heart, gradually hardening; now it felt like smoke, filling every part of her. Liya tried to walk, but couldn't find any ground to push off. She frowned and focused, willing herself to move forward. It wasn't fast or far, but she drifted forward. She tried the other directions, and the movements came easier each time. Suddenly, there was a screech from above. Liya turned, to see small green creatures riding a much larger one. A dragon! Liya thought. Were they attacking her? An answering screech from below revealed another, although this one had no riders. They were going to collide, with her in the middle! She felt a pulling from within again, and the world vanished around her. Liya looked around. She was being pulled backwards away from a shining, familiarly light blue, star through a storm of purple clouds. All around her were stars, though these were white, stars without number. Then the clouds vanished. She was back at the fortress of the Hallowed Order. The small crowd that had gathered to watch her execution had dispersed, leaving two Knights and under the gallows, in a heap, her body. If Liya could move, she would have collapsed to the ground. Instead, all she could do was stare in shock. One of the Knights made a disapproving noise.

"Scum," she said, and kicked Liya's body.

"No!" Liya cried out and lunged for the Knight, bracing for impact. The sharp intake of breath was a surprise, as Liya realised that until that moment, she hadn't been breathing. She looked down to see plate gauntlets covering her hands, and realised she was seeing from the Knight's eyes. She had control. Seeing her own body lying dead on the ground, she felt anger well within her. The pressure, or smoke, or whatever it was, was still inside her, but now it felt different again, like how a fruit can taste different the riper it gets. It reminded Liya of winter somehow.

"Hadeel? What are you doing? Just grab the body, and let us go already."

"What?" Liya said in a voice that was not her own.

"Just... just give it here." The other Knight sighed as they walked over and grabbed the body's arm.

"Don't you touch me! I mean... her. Don't touch her!"

The other Knight dropped the arm. "Hadeel? Are you alright?"

"I said no!" Liya yelled and felt a push from within. Mist coalesced around the gauntlet as she held out her hand, and an icicle burst from the air, striking the Knight in the shoulder and even penetrating the armour.

"AH! Have you lost your mind!?"

"Shut up, shut up!" Liya clenched her fist and the mist spread from her hand and started collecting on the armour of the Knight, turning to a layer of ice that covered them from head to toe as they stopped moving. With ragged breath, Liya looked at her hands in astonishment. She could use magic now! She looked over at her now dead body, and nearly started to cry.

No time for that now, need to get out of here.

Focusing, she tried to make that lunging feeling again towards her body, but only succeeded in floating through it, leaving the Knight.

“...What…?” Liya heard the Knight begin to ask before jumping back in and resuming control. There was little for it, and she needed to be anywhere but here. She picked up her body awkwardly and carried it to the door nearby.

Was I always this heavy? Though this woman, Hadeel I suppose, is stronger than I am. Liya thought.

...Or was, anyway, she added sadly, after a thought.

Having not really seen the interior of the fortress, Liya only got turned around twice before finding the stable entrance. She slung her body over a horse and was about to open the gate before a voice called out.

"Excuse me, you can't do that."

Liya looked over to see a young boy, probably no older than 15, wearing plain clothes but designed with an element reminiscent of the Knights armour. A stablehand, most likely.

"I, uh… I'm taking this woman's body to her home for a decent burial. Orders from... you know." Liya said trying to sound believable, pointing a finger vaguely upwards.

"The First Vanguard?"

"Yes, them. So I'll just be..."

"I never heard nothing like that., the boy said suspiciously.

"It's news to me, too. Look, if you want to waste their time and mine by asking a pointless question, go right ahead. Otherwise, I'm leaving now."

The boy thought for a moment. "Just watch for his back right. He's been a bit stroppy when you brush there."

Liya nodded, and body in tow, rode towards home.


Liya slumped over the shovel, exhausted. She had just finished moving the last piece of dirt for her own grave. Thanks to her borrowed magic, she was able to keep decomposition from setting in until she made it home. To her grim delight, the townsfolk, upon hearing of Liya's fate, had ambushed the Ars-Sara intruder and essentially torn him to shreds.The elderly couple who looked after him before had been given custody of Anwar. She couldn't leave, but she could never truly go back.

Using Hadeel as a disguise, Liya assumed the role of a patrolling Knight, but always staying local to her hometown. She cried on seeing Anwar's first steps, and hearing his first words. She lent a shoulder when first one, then both of the elderly couple passed away. Her heart soared when Anwar started seeing a girl within the village, and was practically inconsolable when they had their first child together, a little girl they named Liya, in remembrance. One day, Liya awoke and got out of bed to resume her duties, but Hadeel did not. Liya stayed around the town until the day that Anwar took his final rest. He went peacefully, surrounded by family and friends. If she didn't know better, Liya would have sworn that he saw her, right at the end.

Liya had gotten stronger too. While Hadeel was asleep, Liya had practiced. She discovered that while out of a body, she could fly and move through objects. She could also conjure a phantom glass that served no purpose while spectral, but once in a body, would act as a mirror that others could not see. On the matter of possession, she could only control people who had magic within them: any of the Knights or very rarely someone outside the Order. Each had their own type of magic, and discovering how to use it was always a challenge.

Lastly, she developed her ability to travel to those stars she had seen within the clouds. Focusing, she could fade from one place and see the stars laid out before her. She could then move towards, and into, any of her choosing. However, other worlds needed an anchor; she was only free while here on her homeworld. If she didn't find a host within minutes, she would be pulled back here, to her grave, and left to try again or drift here forever.

Liya looked at the familiar night sky, the one she had known all her life, and portions of her afterlife, and, with a sad smile, focused on the stars and drifted away.

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