In the darkest shadows of an alleyway in the dockside district, a nameless girl slumped against a pile of crates and clutched her ruined hands to her chest. Tears welled in her eyes but she didn’t let them fall. Her lungs burned and her legs ached, making a distant corner of her mind wonder how long it had been since she’d had to run for any length of time.

It didn’t matter, she realized. The question was just a distraction to take her mind off the pain of her broken fingers. Just looking at the shattered joints made her nauseous. Her left pinky had escaped the dockhand’s club bruised yet unbroken, but the rest of her digits refused to move when she told them to.

She made herself breath steadily, forcing down the despair that threatened to drown her. Panicking wouldn’t help. Thinking might. She knew how to bandage and stitch wounds, but she’d never had to deal with broken bones before. Even though she had a rough idea of what to do her hands wouldn’t do what she told them to. Old Ama, who looked after the dockside kids, had been found dead last month. Going to another healer was out of the question. Everyone knew smashed fingers like hers were the sign of a thief. She sniffled, still refusing to cry.

“That could have gone better Roach.”

“I’m not Roach,” the girl mumbled. “I hate that name.” She usually made a point of not talking to the voice in her head, but there was no one around to think her crazy. Even if there was it wouldn’t matter. No one would care about a girl that couldn’t work and couldn’t steal.

“Then stop acting like Roach,” the voice whispered.  “Roach is a dockside thief, destined to die in the gutter before her twelfth birthday. Be better than that.”


“Identity is fluid. As long as you think like a thief and act like a thief, then you are a thief. If you change how you act, how you think and how you live, you will be a different person. Roach will vanish like a forgotten dream.”

“But I’m marked as a thief. Everyone knows what these wounds mean. No one will help me.”

“So lie.”

“You think anyone will believe me?” She put on a high, shrill voice. “Oh no master healer sir, I fell down some stairs and broke all of my fingers. No, never stolen anything. Right, real convincing.”

“Stupid girl. Only a fool lies with words.”

The girl’s head buzzed with confusion. “You’re not making any sense.”

“You will see,” the voice said. “Go to the market square near the fountain of Ephara. Keep your hands hidden.”

That was miles away. “What’s the point? Nothing will change.”

“I can fix your hands. But you have to trust me.”

Trust the voice? That had never gone well before. And yet, what were her other options? Her current plan was to starve in the gutter.

 *  *  *

The girl shuffled around a pair of burly workers carrying a huge crate and entered the square. She’d stolen an empty sack from behind the dockside warehouse that she was able to carry by crossing her arms under it. It wasn’t a good disguise, but it was far too busy for anyone to pay attention to a kid on an errand.

She wove her way through the crowds, slipping between men twice her size with the ease of long practice until she reached the fountain. There she was out of the way of the shoppers and the market’s two guards.

“You remember what to do?” For once the voice in her head sounded anxious.

The girl didn’t reply. Of course she remembered. The voice’s plan was sound, if unpleasant. There were risks of course. Dozens of things that could go wrong. But she had yet to think of a better option. For a second she caught a glimpse of a swirl of stars and gold reflected in the fountain’s water. That would be the voice. It had always been cagey about showing more than a glimpse of itself, only appearing in reflections and vanishing in the blink of an eye. Once she’d caught a glimpse of a golden mask in a polished shield, but even that had seemed more like a placeholder than an actual identity.

She’d long ago stopped wondering if she was insane. It was a question she couldn’t do anything about even if she got an answer.

“Get ready.”

The girl stepped away from the fountain and wove her way through the crowd again. Before long the sea of merchants and shoppers parted to let a wagon and a pair of oxen past.

“The blacksmith.”

There was a burly man ahead on her left, his back to her as he haggled with some merchant. As she passed behind him she stumbled and drove the point of her elbow into his broad back. Without looking he swatted her away with a hand bigger than her head. The push threw her off balance and sent her sprawling, right into the path of the wagon’s wheels. Exactly as planned.

The wheel ran over her left hand, and for the second time that day the girl felt her bones break like dry kindling. She screamed, the sound shrill and panicky even to her own ears. Then the wheel crushed her right hand and her vision went white.

Vaguely she heard people shouting, but all she could do was curl into a ball and whimper. She had a sense of being lifted and moving, but nothing would come into focus.

 *  *  *

When the girl awoke she was in a bed, somewhere cool and cave-like. The next thing she realized was that her hands didn’t hurt and she craned her head up to try to look at them.

“Easy child.” The speaker was a woman in a dark robe and a hood that obscured her face. “You’ve been through a terrible shock. Don’t try to move just yet.”

“Where am I?”

“The temple of Pharika, child. You had an accident. Almost on our doorstep, actually. Strange how these things happen.”

Strange, she thought. Right. There is no coincidence, only the appearance of it.

“What is your name child?”


“Sophia,” the girl echoed without hesitation. “I’m Sophia.”

“Well Sophia, I’m happy to tell you that your hands are well on the mend. You’ll need to rest for several days, but you should make a full recovery.”

“I . . . I can’t pay you for this.”

The priest waved her concern away. “It’s been taken care of.”

“Good,” she mumbled. “That’s good.”

A growl cut through the quiet room. How long had it been since she’d eaten?

The priest smiled and got up. “I’ll get you something.”

Once she’d walked off into the shadows, the girl turned her attention to the gold mask reflected in a pitcher by her bedside.  “Why can’t anyone else hear you? I’ve been wondering about that for ages.”

“Because I don’t want them to, dear child.”

“You’re impossible.”

“Clearly, I am not.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” She snuggled into the sheets, reveling in how soft they were.

“Who are you talking to child?” The priest swept back into the room, a platter of goat’s cheese and olives in her hand.

“My voice,” the girl answered. “It talks to me, but no one ever hears it. Sorry you wasted your magic on a crazy girl.”

The priest froze with the tray halfway to the bedside table. “Do you know what this voice looks like, Sophia?”

A shadowy hand reached across the reflected mask and removed it. Beneath was a face with a thick beard of billowing clouds and crackling blue eyes, locked in a perpetual scowl.

“He’s . . . it’s hard to describe. Most of his face is covered up by this really thick beard made of clouds, but he’s got this huge beak of a nose. He looks really grumpy.”

A smile tugged at the corners of the priest’s mouth, and she held a cup of water up to the girl’s lips. “It’s hard to say, but I do not think you are crazy, Sophia.”

“I’m not?” She tried to sit up but the priest pushed her back into the bed. “You know what this is?”

“I think you’re an oracle. Of Keranos, if I don’t miss my guess.”

 *  *  *

Late that night the girl lay awake in her bed, staring at the ceiling. If you’re a god, she thought. Then you should be able to hear this.

“Of course I can.”

So, God. What’s that like?

“You could not begin to comprehend.”

Probably not. You pick terrible names though.

“I thought you’d like Sophia.”

It’s a stupid name.

“Maybe,” The voice chuckled. “But it’s a good mask. One you’ll be using until you’re done with the priests here. By the time you’re ready to put Sophia away, you’ll never have to sleep in the gutter or steal food again.”

I’ll believe that when I see it, Phenax.

A dark chuckle echoed through her mind.  “Good. If you’d fallen for my little Keranos ploy along with the healer I wouldn’t have much respect left for you.”

Why pretend?

“Because very few trust me Sophia. If I claimed you as my oracle you would be the target of suspicion and fear for the rest of your life. It’s hard to do much of anything like that. Far better for both of us if our connection remains hidden.”

I’m not Sophia.

“Then chose a name for yourself.” A star-infused hand pressed a finger over the girl’s lips. “But it must remain between the two of us. Your true self is precious. Show those who could hurt you only a mask, and they can never hurt you.”

That made sense, in a twisted sort of way. She’d always hated the name given to her by the other urchins, hated how she was forced into the role of a thief. If she was going to start over, it should be a clean break from what had come before.

Helena. I am Helena.

Eleven Years Later

Helena rose and left the temple in the grey light of dawn. That was one of the benefits of being an oracle of Keranos. The God of Prophecy’s whims were volatile and unpredictable, and the temple elders knew better than to try to impose a schedule upon someone with the god’s voice in their ear. Once she developed a reputation for performing divinations out in the polis she’d been given free rein to wander, so long as she didn’t neglect her duties for more than a day or so at a time. It was a perfect arrangement for Sophia, oracle of Keranos and novice prophet.

It was a better one for Helena, Phenax’s best agent.

She stopped briefly at the polis’s eastern gate to perform an augury for a nervous lieutenant who’d grown paranoid his wife was sleeping with the shipwright. She was, but there was no reason he needed to know that.

From there she cut across the textile district, reading the wrinkled old palm of a weaver here and casting bones for a pair of washerwomen there. Little magic resided in these techniques, but people believed in them anyway. With the correct atmosphere and the right amount of sincerity she was free to weave whatever narrative she wished. Nothing too outlandish, of course. She’d learned long ago that the truth was far more useful bent than broken. The last thing she needed was to compromise Sophia’s reputation. Living side-by-side with prophets who regularly saw the future was hard enough when you didn’t need them to believe you could do the same.

Although prophecies of doom were downright commonplace these days, she thought as she ducked into a deserted alleyway. Something was coming, even if no one knew what. Fishermen spoke of a storm just beyond the horizon, while the air in the polis had grown progressively more tense these past months. There was a sense of lines being drawn but no one knew where they were yet.

It certainly made her work easier. She removed a bronze mirror from her bag and began the subtle process of shapeshifting. Within a few minutes the high cheekbones and staring eyes of Sophia the Prophet had melted into something more plain. Her eyes dimmed from jet black to dull brown, her face grew rounder and a small mole grew under her left eye. Fixing her hair took the longest, as she had to take it out of the elaborate plaits favored by Keranos’s disciples and sweep back into a haphazard bun.

When she was finished she double-checked her work in the brazen mirror. What do you think?

“Not bad,” Phenax’s voice whispered in her ear. “Looks like a Kelios.”

I’m not going to need a name for this form. The librarians deal with too many people to get suspicious. She removed her robes, revealing a plain, undyed tunic underneath. The blue-lined robes she folded and tucked into the hidden compartment in her bag along with the mirror.

True to form, the librarian barely looked at her when she requested several scrolls on history and philosophy. Dozens of students came through here on a daily basis, and her selection suggested research for a political essay. A few minutes later she had claimed an isolated table in a secluded corner and surrounded herself with piles of scrolls, a goose-feather quill, several pots of ink and other accoutrements that would surround an overworked student.

The first scroll she opened was one of the oldest retellings of the polis’s origins. It spoke of winged tyrants, armies of fierce leonin and the eventual intervention of Ephara that led to the founding of “the enlightened polis of Meletis” from the ashes of the nameless empire. She’d heard the epic twice before, and had always found it stale.

She scanned the text for the first mention of the tyrant Agnomakhos’s name and used a spell to lift the ink off the parchment, erasing the k and the h. Then she used another spell to replace them with a t and an l, her eyes narrowed in concentration as she strove to match the original author’s handwriting. Then she went through the rest of the text, until every mention of the archon named him as Agnomatlos.

Other scrolls came next. Some changes were minor. Other’s less so. She rewrote entire paragraphs of Dekatia’s Observations to make his argument regarding the nature of eidolons hinge on a subtle use of Post Hoc Propter Hoc, modified a fable about Nylea to suggest her wrath could be placated with an offering of burnt sage, and even redrew a map of the nearby coastline to include dangerous reefs surrounding the Dakra isles.

It was tricky work, but she enjoyed it. Phenax claimed to be barred from the library due to some deal he’d made in the past, and while she could never quite be sure if he was telling the truth, she’d never heard her god’s voice while she was here. It was paradoxical, to perform her greatest acts of worship within a structure her god could not enter. But the worship of Phenax was full of such contradictions.

She’d decided long ago that there were no true temples to the god of liars. Those who claimed openly to follow his guidance told the truth, and by doing so weakened their connection to his divinity. Helena smiled. Another paradox. And yet it wasn’t, for the world itself was his temple and every act of falsehood strengthened him, whether it was done is his name or not.

Hours later she left the library, her hands stained with ink and her neck aching from being bent over the scrolls. The sun had passed its zenith a few hours ago, but the summer days were long and the temple had no official curfew. As soon as she stepped outside a sense of giddiness flooded her body, accompanied by faint cackling that made her bones hum and her hair stand on end.

You’re in a good mood.

Phenax’s attention bore down on her with more force than she’d ever felt before, weighing her down like sodden robes that dragged their wearer under the surface and making her struggle for breath. “Prepare yourself.” His voice boomed like thunder and she flinched from it, but no one else reacted in the slightest. “Things just got very interesting.”

Helena staggered to the side of the street and sat. What happened?


That one word carried enough force to drive her to the ground, then the weight lifted from her as Phenax’s attention shifted elsewhere.

“You alright down there?” The voice came from an elderly woman leaning on a blackened staff.

“Fine, I’m fine.” Helena stood up shakily. “Just felt faint, is all.”

“Well get yourself home afore you feel faint again.” The old woman grimaced. “Gods’ voice knows I won’t be dragging your bones off the ground with my back like this.”

“I think I will, thanks.”

She bade the woman goodbye and left, but her feet didn’t carry her home. Prepare herself, Phenax had told her. But for what? She needed information.

A quick stop at a deserted latrine and she’d changed faces again. This time the form she took was gorgeous, with eyes the color of the sea, flawless olive skin and a chest ample enough to thoroughly distract most men.

She hurried to an opulent residence a stone’s throw from the forum. While most of the Twelve forewent displays of material wealth, Pallas Rhoecus had no such qualms. His compound demanded so many servants to function that no one bothered to question Helena as she took a broom and swept her way to a luxurious bedroom overlooking the central courtyard.

The room was deserted, so she tucked the broom into a corner and busied herself tidying up the pile of clothes that spilled off the wide bed and onto the floor. It was best to have an excuse in case someone found her here, and the clothes would give her some insight into what Pallas’s son had been up to. Several tunics were stained with wine and grease, some several days old. One pair of pants reeked heavily of sweat. Her eyes darted to where a xiphos lay on the table within easy reach of both the bed and the writing desk. There were few places the younger Rhoecus didn’t insist on wearing the sword. If it was here he was probably at the forum, where tradition dictated that words be a person’s only arms.

That was good. Hopefully that meant he would have news when he returned. Her eyes narrowed as she pulled a long dress with a deep red hem out of the pile. It would seem her lover had another woman. Only fair, she supposed. Helena herself had three men that she’d wooed under different guises so she had no place to get mad. It was almost flattering that Rhoecus had tried to hide it from her. She balled the dress up and rolled it under the bed. Almost.

It was more than an hour before the young statesman returned, during which time Helena had returned the room to spotless order and broken two of the ciphers his letters were encoded with.

As he stepped into the room she rushed over and buried her face in his chest. She was trembling with frustration, but he would interpret the tremors as fear. That fact alone would be more convincing than anything she could say.

“Lais?” the surprise was plain on his handsome face. “What are you doing here?”

“You won’t believe what happened to me Rho.” Carefully rehearsed words tumbled from her mouth. “I was in the market buying milk for Master Leucippus when this man went mad, swinging a cart axel around like a broomstick and bellowing like nothing I’ve ever heard. I don’t know who got hurt, I didn’t stay to get my head caved in, I just turned and ran. Everyone in the streets was talking about signs and omens and all kinds of outlandish stuff, and I didn’t know where else to go before it happened again.”

“But why not return to your master’s house? Why come here?”

“That’s halfway across the polis!” She lowered her voice to a shaky whisper. “I saw it Rho. By the god’s voice to my ears I saw the red eye of Mogis hanging over that man.” She hugged him around the waist, intentionally squeezing far harder than she ever had before. “What’s happening Rho? I’m scared.”

“It’s alright.” He shushed her until she loosened her hold on him. “You’re safe here Lais.”

“Am I? Everything’s gone mad Rho.”

“I shouldn’t be talking about this.” His resolve broke when she rubbed against him, the motion intentionally distracting. “Alright, listen. Nobody’s really sure what happened. I was at the forum with my father when Ephara appeared out of nowhere.”

“Really?” Helena let her mouth hang open, the picture of an overawed bumpkin.

Rhoecus nodded. “She didn’t say much, but it sounds like something went wrong in Nyx. Purphoros and Heliod are definitely fighting again, but it sounds like the other gods are picking sides.” His lips compressed into a thin line.

“That’s . . .” Helena let the words trail off, possibilities whirling through her head. War in Nyx, was that really possible? Sun and forge were ancient enemies, but how would the others chose sides? Would any abstain from the fight? The possibilities were truly endless.

She was trembling as Rhoecus led her over to sit on his bed, but this time it was with excitement.

 *  *  *

Late that night Helena lay awake, listening to the crickets chirping outside as Ephara’s brilliance lit up the sky like a thousand comets.  Rhoecus had left hours ago to attend a meeting with his father, leaving her alone in his bed.

“War in Nyx, huh?” she laced her fingers behind her head. “This is going to be tricky, isn’t it?”

“But oh so worthwhile.” Phenax’s voice was taut. She knew better than to project emotions onto that golden mask. “The pantheon split straight down the middle. Such a thing has not happened for more than an age.”

“I’d ask what side we’re on, but I already know the answer.”

“Who else’s?” he laughed, cold and heartless. “We’re on my side.”

 *  *  *

The next week passed in a whirlwind of chaos, backstabbing, and betrayals. She lost track of entire identities as she rushed from temple to temple; always keeping track of what the priests and oracles were planning while she sowed doubt and paranoia that other gods would betray their tenuous alliances, or that Kruphix or Erebos would break both their silence and neutrality in a single devastating swoop and take the field. She went without sleep for days at a time, the hot summer days blending seamlessly into nights lit by the light of Ephara’s god-form as the god shielded her Polis from all that would threaten it.

Rumors from outside the polis grew ever more dire, monsters attacking with renewed boldness and striking farther into Meletian territory. News of the other poleis ceased entirely.

Once a riot swept up from the farmlands outside the polis and burst through the gates. Followers of Karametra battling the Reverent Army with hoes and picks. Helena had been forced to take the form of a child and hide under an upturned wagon for hours while people screamed and died outside.

As the sun rose that morning it found her back in the temple of Keranos, trying to stitch a long gash in her dress closed.

“You’ve been busy Helena.” Phenax had never sounded more alive than these past days.

I have to get my hands on a courier’s robe. One of Perisophia’s assistants died in the riot. If I have the right clothes I can walk right into Ephara’s stronghold and eliminate the greatest voice of reason in Meletis.

“Something more important has come up. I have a mission for you.”

A mission? More important that eliminating Perisophia.  What is it?

“I’ve reached a deal with Erebos. Something that will bring him out of the underworld to join the fray.”

Helena sucked in a breath. If the god of the dead joined the fight—it would change everything. What do you need?

“There is a portal to the underworld in a ravine west of the city. You will deliver a package there by midnight.

Her spirit soared to be trusted with something so important. What package?

“I will give it to you once you’re outside the walls.” Knowledge of the route burned itself into her mind. “Prepare to leave.”

Outside the walls? That would be dangerous. Regardless of what form she took, Helena had never trained with the spear or the sword before, and would be little challenge for a soldier, let alone a minotaur. She’d have to move fast, and Phenax’s imparted knowledge told her the package she would be carrying was fairly heavy.

She’d met a Setessan warrior once, a towering woman with legs like tree trunks and arms like braided bronze. She’d looked like she could run for days without tiring and claimed to have broken a centaur’s back with her bare hands. That had always seemed a bit suspicious to Helena, but it was time to put that claim to the test.

As dusk approached Helena strode out through the northern gate, reveling in the strength that coursed through her body. Her clothes were too small now and pinched awkwardly, but appearances barely mattered for this trip.

When she’d gone around the first bend and couldn’t see the gate anymore a large cloth bundle appeared at her feet in a shower of golden light. She tucked it into her pack and made sure the straps would keep it from shifting or falling before she set off into the darkness at a steady jog.

The trip passed in flashes of silent terror. She’d seen the gods at war through the shield Ephara had stretched over Meletis, but that was nothing compared to being in the open with nothing between her and Nyx as Purphoros fought Nylea directly overhead, the sky itself on fire while arrows like blazing comets ripped into his brazen armor. Once Purphoros’s flames illuminated a twisted ox that stared at her from an olive grove beside the road, but she put her head down and doubled her speed until the beast was far behind her.

After hours of jumping at shadows and having been soaked by a sudden storm Helena reached her destination. There was a thin opening in the rocky ground half a mile off the road, just barely wide enough for a person to squeeze into if they tried.

She descended into the crevasse, faint wails echoing up out of the blackness from far below. She had to shift back to her normal body to get through the crack, but after the narrow opening the ravine opened up a little, leading to a sizeable cave just below the surface. Questions nagged at her mind as she climbed. Did this cave really extend all the way to the underworld? Could one walk down there, could a spirit find their way to the surface here? Were there returned hiding in the darkness even now, lost and confused without their memories to guide them?

Such musings would have to wait, Helena decided as her feet touched the bottom. She turned to face the darkest patch of shadow and removed the bundle from her pack.

“Mighty Erebos. As a token of your alliance with Purphoros, I offer you this gift from Phenax.” She laid the bundle on the floor of the cave and stepped back.

An icy chill spread through the cave, shadows growing darker until she could barely see the light of Nyx. Her left arm went numb, and her heart leapt into her mouth when she saw a skeletal hand resting on her shoulder from behind. Erebos had appeared behind her, blocking the night sky and towering over her.

“Oh dear child.” Erebos’s voice was quieter than Phenax’s, yet it shook her bones like thunder. “Did he not tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Her voice cracked with fear.

The god released her arm, but feeling didn’t return. “You should have checked what that gift was.”

She bent and unwrapped the cloth bundle with one hand. Inside was a stone the size of her head, polished and glittering in the violet glow of Erebos’s mantle. Inscribed on the stone was a single word.


She had just given herself over to the god of the dead, at Phenax’s request.

He lied.

Of course he lied, some corner of her mind whispered.  That’s what he is. Lies and deception and falsehood all the way down to the essence of his divinity.

He lied to me.

Why should that matter? I’m mortal, a raindrop lost in an ocean. Utterly insignificant.

But I’m his oracle. He needs me.

Clearly he doesn’t.

Part of her mind was still rationalizing, trying to reason her way around her god’s betrayal. But she knew with a hollow certainty that there was no explanation. She’d been played, pure and simple.

Helena slumped to the ground at Erebos’s feet. There was nothing left for her, no ploy to make or lie to tell. All she could do was resign herself to an eternity serving the God of the Dead.

Something inside Helena broke.

She felt herself slipping. The cavern faded away as she gave in to despair, and the rational part of her mind that refused to stop working noted that she was moving incredibly quickly. Then everything turned on its head and she fell.

Helena spun around, trying to make sense of her new surroundings. Somehow she was aboveground, falling through the night sky. The stars above her were tiny pinpricks of light devoid of the splendor and beauty of Nyx. Miles below her, an endless expanse of sand stretched out to every horizon, dotted here and there with the glow of torches and cooking fires. If not for the lights she wouldn’t have believed any life could exist here, for every corner of the world was barren and empty.

Helena laughed, letting the wind of her fall whip the hair out of her face as she gave in to the absurdity of it all and howled to the bleak sky. It was reckless, yes. She probably had a minute until she hit the sand, but she didn’t care. One realization overrode everything else.

The world was a lie. Theros, Nyx, the Underworld. All lies. She’d flown so far beyond the horizon that truth and reality didn’t matter anymore. The world as people knew it was little more than a stage, the kings and queens and heroes laboring away and never realizing how insignificant they all were. Even herself, until now.

Did Phenax know? He must. How could the God of Deception not be in on the greatest con of all? And he had found a way to share this impossible wonder with her, his greatest disciple! The last of her hurt and anger flew from her with the wind. How could she have ever doubted her god?

The ground was much closer, she noted as she plummeted into the crevasse between two huge dunes. The thought should have terrified her, but the sand held no more truth than Theros.

The ground opened into nothingness beneath her and she fell between worlds once more. As she flew she thought of her home. She now saw that Meletis was as much a prison as the dockside gutters had been in her childhood. Once again Phenax had thrust her onto a greater stage than she ever could have imagined. It was time to prove she’d been worthy of that trust.

Ob Nixilis

I was flying high over the plains of Theros when the spells I’d set up to detect the arrival of Planeswalkers buzzed with an intensity that meant whoever had triggered it was less than a mile away. After weeks of silence I’d begun to suspect that no one had any use for this plane at all, but it would seem that wasn’t the case.

I dipped my wing and flew in a wide circle, trying to single out this new arrival before they could make their way to the nearby city and disappear. It only took a few minutes to find her.

A young woman stood alone on top of a low hill, looking away from me and towards the city below. Too short to be Liliana, ears too round to be the damned elf and hair too dark to be the Gatewatch’s pet pyromancer. She didn’t match any of Gideon’s know allies.

That was enough to decide my course. She didn’t hear the wind on my wings and didn’t even turn when a beam of magical agony struck her in the back. She screamed once and collapsed, her hair spilling out into the dirt.

I landed on top of her and hit the planeswalker with another blast of anguish. She didn’t move at all this time, enough confirmation that she was unconscious that I raised my gaze and looked around. There was no sign of other Planeswalkers arriving, or anyone else for that matter. And why would there be? My invitation to the laughably named Gatewatch hadn’t even been sent yet, and Planeswalkers with any sense at all prefer to arrive in deserted areas to avoid questions.

I flicked my attention back down to the Planeswalker under my feet as she started to stir fitfully. The expedient option would be to slit her throat and be done with it, but I had time and she was likely to know something useful about any other Planeswalkers that frequented this backwater.

I leaned down and grabbed her head with one hand. The spell I used was undeniably crude. My grasp of mind magic has always been rudimentary, as it’s a tool I honed more for the purposes of torture than interrogation. The result would cause her no small amount of pain.

No matter, it would help to keep her subdued.

I ripped back defenses so feeble they barely counted as such and forced my way into her mind. Pain radiated back at me through the link with her, but I was far more practiced at working through pain than this child. It didn’t take long to get a picture of her mind. She was new, a complete novice to the world of Planeswalkers and barely practiced in magic. But more than that, what I saw surprised me.

Rarely had I seen a mind so twisted.

I bared my fangs. She would be quite useful.

Levi Byrne has been with the game since Worldwake and has a rabid love for fantasy writing that goes back decades. Despite some forays into Legacy he plays Commander almost exclusively, and has a love for the crazy plays and huge games that make Magic what it is. He was the go-to advisor of his playgroup on deck construction for more than five years before joining Dear Azami.

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