I dug my fingers into the sand.

Meletis had real nice beaches. Not in the city-polis-thing, there’s too many boats in there. Ships, whatever. I’m not a sailoress.

But out here, outside the walls and past the harbor there’s a big stretch of white sand. It was nice to come out here and watch the sun set over the waves. The sky was starting to turn orange now, and it made the ocean look like a sheet of flame. It had been so long since I’d been able to just relax. Had it really been six months since Kaladesh? Since then everything had been a whirlwind of travel and panic and fighting and death across so many planes I’d lost track. And it still was, kinda. But we hadn’t seen any demons yet and I needed time to just sit, and draw in the sand, and not think about Gideon’s home burning. Was this what Nissa felt like when she talked with Zendikar?

I missed her.

I kept hoping that she’d come back. That I’d turn around and see her sitting under some tree. But it hadn’t happened. Ravnica had burned. Liliana died, Jaya died, and she still hadn’t come. I hugged my knees against my chest. Hopefully she’d found peace on Zendikar.

Sand crunched heavily behind me.

“Hey Gids.”

“Hey.” He sat next to me. “How are you holding up?”

“Fine.” For a second I was back at the temple, the seer’s fingers digging into my arms again. His eyes stared at nothing as he screamed about a future where all of Theros burned. “I’m fine.”

He didn’t push. Gideon’s good like that. I ran my fingers through the sand, making wave patterns. Some of them looked kinda like hair, so I added eyes, a nose, a smirking mouth. Liliana, kinda. She woulda killed me if she saw the pug nose I’d given her. I started to draw the glowy tattoos she’d sometimes had and stopped. Harsh, jagged lines turned my crappy face into a frightening mask. It wasn’t right, she didn’t deserve to be remembered like that. My hand burst into flames and I pressed down, melting the sand into a puddle of glass.

Gids leaned against me. Not pushing, just there. He’s always so gentle, like he’s afraid he’ll break someone if he moves too quickly.

“It’s okay to miss her.” I felt Gideon’s voice rumble against my shoulder. “I do too.”

“She used to make fun of you for never wearing a shirt around the house. Something about how all your ‘throbbing bits’ were never covered up.” I swirled my finger through the molten glass. It felt warm, like a loaf of bread right out of the oven.

He chuckled. “That sounds like her. Back on Kaladesh she talked Shadowblayde into making ‘Beefslab’ my codename.” His deep voice grew concerned. “You don’t think I made her uncomfortable, did I?”

“Gids, some women would pay to watch you walk around shirtless. I’m pretty sure Jace was the only one who minded the view.” My cheeks flushed. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice.

“I never thought about it like that.” He sighed. “I should apologize to Jace when we get back.”

I kinda wanted to see that conversation. Then again I’ve snuck out at night to watch goblins fly around Ravnica with explosives strapped to their backs, so I doubted this idea was any better.  Time to change the subject before he thought too much about what I’d said.

“How’d meeting with the twelve go?” There, that was almost smooth. Nothing like politics to smother my unruly thoughts. “They know anything about Ob Nix?”

“Barely.” His voice was bitter. “Three days since we talked to Perisophia and the best they were able to come up with was some farmer who claimed he saw something south of the city a few weeks back. But he didn’t get a good look. For all we know it could have been a harpy.”

“This is the lamest duel I’ve ever seen.” I stood up and pushed the hair back behind my ears. “He challenged you. You’d think he’d be here.”

“There’s a chance he isn’t on Theros,” Gideon said. “I learned a lot about him when we fought on Zendikar. His rage, his bluster, and his taunts? It’s all an act. Whoever Ob Nixilis is, he doesn’t care about fighting me. At most he wants to end the threat that the Gatewatch represents to him.”

“But the seer said ‘the demon would burn a city’ or something like that. Doesn’t that mean he has to be here?”

“Not necessarily. Keranos’s prophecies are always accurate, but they’re notoriously difficult to decipher. It didn’t tell us which polis Ob Nixilis was going to attack, let alone when.  It’s possible that he’s on a different plane now and plans to attack Setessa three years down the road.”

“Where else could he be?” The words felt hollow even to me. He could be anywhere, on any plane.

“If I had to guess?” I heard Gideon’s finger’s scratch against whiskers. “Probably Phyrexia.”

My insides went cold despite the sun shining on my face. “You really think he would do that?”

“It’s the smart play. He lost because of our numbers advantage on Zendikar, and his invitation arrived at the perfect time to split the Gatewatch in half. It could be a coincidence, but if he knew we were committed to fighting Phyrexia it would explain a lot. If that’s the case then Theros, Phyrexia, and Ravnica are his possible targets, and with the Gatewatch spread this thin we’re more vulnerable than ever.”

“Then why are we here?” I spun to face him. “We need to warn them!” I’d left my armor at the inn. Would going to Phyrexia without it be stupid? Probably, but for a short trip to warn them—

“They already know.” Gideon looked up at me, which just felt weird. “I warned Jace and Teferi before we left.”

“You—” had he? Leaving Ravnica had been a blur. “You shoulda told me before,” I punched him in the shoulder. Lightly. He’d worn his armor to the beach. “Jerk.”

“You’re right.” He looked at me with those big, sincere puppy-dog eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Think we should group up with them anyway? We could give Ob Nix a nasty surprise when he shows up for the ambush.”

He shook his head. “I’m just guessing that he would go after the others. If I’m wrong and Ob Nixilis is here somewhere, Theros would pay the price when we left.” Gids looked past me, to where the first of the squabbling gods would be showing up on the darkening horizon. “I can’t risk that.”

“Hey.” I knelt down in front of him, blocking his view. “Look, Gids. I’m the last person that should be giving anyone advice, but I’m gonna try anyway.” I took a breath to see if he was listening.

“Okay?” he turned it into a question somehow.

“You think too much Gids.” I blurted it out. It sounded stupid, even to me. Roll with it Chandra. “This Nixilis butt is so far in your head that you’re going in circles torturing yourself. He isn’t even doing anything!”

“You’re saying I should stop thinking?” Gideon frowned.

“Not stop, no. I do that enough for both of us. But maybe, I don’t know, slow down and focus on what you can do?”  I tried to pull him to his feet and nearly fell over. One of these days I’ll get used to how big he is. “If we’re staying you’re gonna have to trust them to be safe.”

“That’s not easy for me to do.” He stood up and squeezed my shoulder. “But I’ll try.”

“Besides,” I said as we strolled back to the city. “Teferi’s not dumb. I’m way more likely to do something stupid than he is.”

He was quiet for a long time, and I watch the lightshow in the darkening sky. Well, it should be darkening. A ginormous column of white light poured down from an urn in the sky and made the whole city shine like it was noontime. Don’t ask me how that worked. God-stuff, apparently. Gids said it was some kinda shield, which was good, I guess. It made it real hard to sleep though.

“You give really good terrible advi—” I almost heard Gideon’s eyebrows snap together. “What’s that?”

It took me a bit to see it. After staring at the column of light the harbor was a dark smudge dotted with lights that looked kinda like little fireflies in the distance. Then one of the boats burst into flames, and I saw dark figures silhouetted against the flames. One of them drew back his arm and hurled a torch at the next boat.

By the time I made it to the harbor Gideon was already staggering out of a burning shack, a young boy in his arms and his whole body shimmering gold against the flames. A bell was ringing in the distance somewhere along with frantic cries of “Fire!”

A big man wearing some kinda horned skull as a hat rushed at me swinging a heavy axe in each hand. I yelped and shot a gout of fire into his face. He screamed and went down, but stray bits of flame landed on the wooden pier and caught.

Stupid, stupid Chandra! I stomped on the embers until they went out. Fire’s the problem. We don’t need more of it.  I looked around frantically. This was bad. Old wood, old ships, tar and sails. I could see the crates of sand and barrels of water for fighting a blaze like this, but the torch-wielding maniacs were busy stabbing sailors as they stumbled from their boats. Everything here would burn. I felt it in my bones.

A flash of light and Gids threw two rioters into the water. He was in full General mode, eyes darting back and forth as he barked orders to anyone who would listen. Carry the injured back to the shore, form fire brigades there, soldiers there. And they listened to him. Soldiers and sailors and children alike followed his voice to carve out an island of order in the middle of the storm.

I grabbed an oar and joined a group of warriors fending off a mob of the rioters. No pyromancy here; I was just another pair of arms. I swung and prodded and shoved with the oar until my shoulders ached and my lungs burned from the smoke. The guys next to me weren’t even breathing heavy. They probably spent all their spare time lifting weights and beating up punchy-bags. I should really ask Gids about using his gym for something other than making sandcastles.

“Chandra!” Gideon’s voice boomed through the harbor.  “Marauders! Shoot the water!”

He was pointing out into the harbor, where a bunch of the guys with torches were charging down one of the docks towards a fire brigade. It took a second for my sluggish mind to realize what he wanted, then I raised my hand and lobbed a fireball into the ocean between the boats.

There was a violent hissing sound and a cloud of steam billowed up to engulf the marauders. By the time it died down they were lying on the pier clutching their scalded skin as some of the locals tied them up. And most of the flames in that area had gone out. Huh.

Could I boil enough seawater to extinguish all the fires? I leaned on the oar and tried to do some quick math. Maybe, but not without cooking everyone in the harbor. If only Nissa was here. She could call up a big wave or something. That made sense, right? Water was nature stuff. Not for the first time I wished that my magic was good for something, anything, beside hurting and killing and breaking.

I shook the thoughts out of my head and looked around. The rest of the group I’d been with had moved on to deal with some other emergency. I didn’t really blame them. I probably woulda gotten freaked out too if someone chucked a fireball past my ear. Gideon shined like a golden statue as he strode through the inferno that engulfed the nearest dock.

My heart shuddered like the wings of a crushed thopter. I mean, it’s Gids, he’s not gonna get burned. But the wood under his feet had to be nothing but charcoal at this point and he was wearing armor. He told me about how he nearly drowned on Zendikar, so why?

Then I saw it. There were dark outlines on the other side of the fire, rioters and sailors both cut off from the shore by the blaze. Of course he went after them. He’s Gideon.

A crazy idea hit me. I was too tired to figure out if it was ‘that’s brilliant’ crazy or ‘Chandra, you’re nuts’ crazy. Time to find out.

I closed my eyes and focused on my hands. They were hot, itching to burst into flame so I could torch all the scary stuff going on. That was no good. I slowed my breathing down, remembering Nissa’s words from so long ago. Breathe in. Imagine you’re a leaf on the water. Breathe out. The water’s cool, soothing. My heart slowed. In the middle of fire and chaos, my hands cooled. I turned so that I could feel the heat of the flames against my face.

What I tried was different from any magic I’d done before. Normally my fire bubbled up from inside on tides of rage and frustration. This time I reached out to the chaos around me a called it to me, drawing it to the well of calm inside me.

Heat surged at me like I’d just jumped into an oven. Crap crap crap don’t make it worse. My eyes snapped open as I backpedaled, but when the flames died back down a tiny little seed of a fireball floated between my hands.

I blinked at it, probably looking like a surprised owl. This could actually work.

My heart leapt at the thought and the fire flared up. No, stop it. I took in another slow breath and dropped into one of the stances Serenok had taught me back at Keral Keep. My form was sloppy, but that didn’t matter. Breathe out. Find your calm. Breathe in. The ripples fade away, leaving only stillness. Breathe out. I called the fire again.

Flames leapt towards me, streaming sideways like a gale had ripped through the harbor. I welcomed them, drew them in and kept pulling as the fire poured into my hands and left the blackened wood of the docks exposed. The tiny seed of flame in my hands grew to the size of a melon.

I stepped forward, onto charred wood that had blazed moments before. Fire poured towards me, from the boards under my feet and the sails that stretch overhead like tree branches and the boats on either side and everywhere.

It was really hard to see, so I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. It became part of my rhythm. Breathe in. Left foot. Breathe out. Right foot. It was kinda nice, actually. Why’d no one ever tell me it’s easier to meditate while you’re walking?

A bunch of people ran past me. Hopefully those were sailors who just wanted to get out and not more of the skull-hat guys. That would be embarrassing. There were kicking and punching and stabbing sounds ahead, so I lifted the fireball over my head to see what’s going on.

Gids was holding three of them off at once, but he’s staring at me and his mouth is a perfect little O. I looked up.

Oh. Big fireball.

There was a splash as someone fell into the water. Or maybe they jumped, I wasn’t really paying attention. More splashes. One of the skull-hats dropped to his knees in the middle of the fight and screamed something about “The Eye!”. Gids kicked him in the head and he went down hard, then everyone was scurrying out of my way and fighting around me and all I could do was hope no one stabbed me on accident or something while I was walking through, because if I stopped now I didn’t think I could hold this thing.

There was a flash of gold through the flames and I heard what sounded like Gideon’s fist hit someone hard. More thuds, a scream, and then the fighting was behind me. My whole body felt like it was burning, it was a wonder that my shirt hadn’t . . . nevermind, there went my sleeves.

The end of the dock was just ahead, and I risked a glance back over my shoulder. I’d left a trail of hideous scorch marks and half-consumed ships in my wake, but only a few embers flickered in the darkness now. And here I was, holding a sun bigger than I was over my head. What if I just kept marching up and down the dock with this thing? I snorted with laughter and nearly tripped over a crate of fish. Oh, wow. Legs shaking is a bad sign. Time to do something.

I swayed to a stop at the end of the dock. Water would make this thing go boom in a big way. How far out would I need to throw it not to hurt anyone? Um, far. Real far. Further is better. Aim for the horizon Chandra. I thrush my hands forward and launched the giant fireball as hard as I could. And the stupid thing flopped into the water ten feet from the dock.

A geyser of steam hit me right in the face.


“I need healers over here!” Steam stung Gideon’s tongue as he shouted the order.  Visibility had dropped to almost nothing after Chandra dropped the inferno into the ocean, but he was fairly certain no one else should be standing in the middle of the blistering cloud. Gideon strode through the fog to where the raider’s leader had been. The man lay on the pier surrounded by the corpses of at least four sailors, wizened men of the sea who’d fought to protect their livelihoods and lost their lives. He rose as Gideon approached, his mouth twisted into a manic grin despite the blisters already forming on his face.

The bull skull fell from his head and Gideon saw his eyes, wide and staring, full of the hatred of Mogis. There would be no surrender here. The man lifted a jawbone axe and lunged.

Gideon let the blow connect, taking the full force of the axe on his chest. There was a flash of golden light and the axe shattered. The fanatic stumbled forward, off-balance after overcommitting to the swing. That moment was enough. Gideon swept his leg and took him to ground. There was a brief struggle, but in the end he broke the man’s knee and choked him unconscious with a rear face lock.

“Bring restraints,” Gideon shouted back to the shore. “Five marauders incapacitated.”

Reinforcements weren’t able to take the raiders into captivity until the steam faded away several minutes later. The wait grated on him, but Gideon couldn’t risk letting one of them get away to kill again. As it was he had to wrestle three of them back into submission as they fought past the pain of their burns.

Once he’d seen them carried off and spoken to a harried doctor to make sure the sailors caught in the blast would get treatment, Gideon went after Chandra. Her passage had left charred boot prints down the center of the pier, and at the end of the trail he caught sight of a small form crumpled on the ground, steam or smoke still rising from her.

Gideon rushed to her side and flinched back before his shield blocked the worst of the heat. Chandra radiated heat like a giant’s forge, hot enough to blacken the boards in a ten-foot circle around where she’d fallen. His fingers glowed with golden light as he held them against her neck. Chandra’s pulse beat against his fingers, weak and thready but definitely there. He let out a quiet sigh of relief.

She stirred, turning her head slightly to look back at him. “Did I do good Gids?”

“You did good.” He squeezed her shoulder gently. “Are you hurt?”

“Don’t think so.” Her head flopped back to the dock. “Ow. Just real tired. And hot. Very hot.”

Gideon got an arm underneath Chandra and lifted her to her feet. She leaned heavily against him, but her legs didn’t give out.

She squinted over the edge of the pier and winced. “I think I cooked some fish.”

Gideon glanced down. A handful of fish bobbed on top of the waves, mixed in with charred boards and other debris from the fight. A few sailors who had jumped into the waters were paddling back to their ships, but some bodies bobbed motionlessly with the waves. It was impossible to tell if they’d been dead when they’d fallen into the water, or if some of them had been caught in Chandra’s blast. A lump formed in his throat.

“Saved the fishermen some work in the morning.” Gideon tried not to think about how much help they’d need recovering from the attack. A city was always hungry, and Meletis had just lost a third of its fleet.

“Um, Gids? What’s that?” Chandra  pointed out into the harbor, to where something was making the water bulge up. Something fast, moving under the water. Gideon caught a glimpse of dozens of green lights glowing balefully before the thing dove fully under the surface and disappeared.

“Get back to shore.” Gideon backed away from the end of the pier as he spoke. Chandra looked up at him briefly and let go, limping slowly down the pier. Then he turned to face the end of the pier and bellowed over the cacophony. “Enemies incoming!”

The words had barely left his mouth when the water erupted and a monstrous, three-headed beast leapt onto the timbers. A calm part of his mind catalogued details as he drew his sword. In rough terms the beast resembled a wolf, though its thick shoulders were at the same height as Gideon’s own. Its hide was hairless and covered in a spiky red carapace, a whip-like tail lashed back and forth behind it, while claws that put most daggers to shame splintered the boards with every step it took. Half a dozen eyes glowed from each of the three heads as they quested about for a scent. Then the central head snapped around to stare at Gideon and let out a ravenous snarl. What had it even been doing in the water?

Alright hoplite, he thought. You’ve got a big cerberus that wants you for dinner. There’s no cover, no room to dodge, and there’s a group of healers fifty feet behind you. So what are you going to do?

Gideon crashed his bracer against his breastplate, drawing the attention of all three heads. He smiled, baring his teeth. “I’m right here.”

He was fairly sure his words meant nothing to the beast, but its right head let out a roar of challenge and the other two bared mouths full of far too many yellow fangs.  Its breath billowed over him, a nauseating mix of long-rotted meat and brimstone.

The cerberus stalked forward slowly, its footsteps cautious and uncertain on the narrow, charred pier. Gideon jabbed the central head’s nose as soon as it got within reach. It flinched back with a snarl, but the other two heads lashed out. One set of fangs sparked off the metal of his shield, but the other clamped down around his wrist. He felt no pain as the beast’s fangs tried to dig into the bands of light that covered his skin.

Before it could react Gideon stepped forward, under the beast’s heads. Doing so twisted his trapped arm awkwardly over his head, but he was able to reach up with his free hand and transfer his sword to it. The cerberus gagged and shuffled backwards, dragging Gideon across boards that were more splinters than wood.

With a grunt of exertion he swung his legs up and locked them around the beast’s neck so that he was hanging under it like a demented monkey. It looked ridiculous, but for a few precious seconds the cerberus was too confused to shake him off.

Gideon drew his sword back and plunged it into the joint between two of the cerberus’s necks, seeking its heart. The beast went berserk, thrashing and roaring with pain. Gideon was thrown into the air and crashed down in an explosion of golden light and broken crates. He staggered to his feet in time to see all three of the cerberus’s heads biting and tearing at the sword hilt. One of them ripped it out, releasing a fountain of blood.

The beast staggered weakly. The middle head slowly rose up and snarled at Gideon, but it was dying and they both knew it. Hate blazed in its green eyes.

Gideon dropped into a low stance and braced himself. “Come on then.”

The beast charged, its paws slipping in its own blood and one head already hanging lifelessly. Its fury was no less. Gideon met the charge with his shoulder to its chest and dug his feet in, straining to halt its momentum while its two remaining heads futilely chewed at his barrier. The stench was overwhelming; the beast’s snarls mixed with muffled screams from behind. At first Gideon slid backwards under the onslaught, but eventually the beast’s strength faded. Ferocious snarling turned to gurgling whimpers. The fangs that had sought to rip him apart fell away, and the cerberus shuddered to death at his feet.

Gideon prodded it with his boot to make sure it was actually dead, then stepped around the beast and retrieved his sword from the ground. He was wiping the blade clean when Chandra limped up. Her gaze lingered on him until she noticed he was looking at her, then she hastily dropped her gaze to the butchered cerberus.

“So there was a scaly firedog in the ocean.” She let out a heavy sigh and sat on a pile of nets. “Is that . . . normal here?”

“I don’t think so.” Gideon shrugged. “Cerberuses are supposed to haunt the entrances to the Underworld. The raiders must have lured it here. Or it was a gift from Mogis.”

“Good thing you were here then. Our knight in . . . well, very soot-stained armor.” She smiled.

“Better me than that thing getting loose among the fishermen.” He walked over to where Chandra was sitting. “Do you want help walking?”

“Yeah.” Chandra held out her hand.

Gideon pulled her to her feet, trying not to wince at how feverish her skin still felt. Chandra sagged against him and wrapped her arm around his waist. It felt like the time he’d wrestled a flamekin. Together they turned and walked slowly back down the pier.

They were met halfway back to the shore by a small battalion of Meletian soldiers, led by a wiry officer. The crest on his helmet marked him as a sergeant in whatever the Meletians called their army. Gideon doubted “The Inked Spears” was their official name.

The sergeant pointed his spear at Chandra. “She’s the flamespeaker?”

“Great,” Chandra sighed. “This again.”

“So it’s true.” He gave both of them a steady look.

“Is that going to be a problem Sergeant?” Gideon kept his voice carefully calm.

“Those marauders were fanatics of Mogis, men driven to madness by their thirst for revenge.” His voice tightened with anger. “The God of Slaughter has been Purphoros’s fiercest ally since the schism.”

Chandra’s arm tightened around Gideon’s waist. He could feel the frustration in that gesture and he knew the strength it took her to keep from spitting curses in the man’s face.

“She just saved half your city’s fleet.” Gideon replied. “More, once some sails and such get replaced. You can ask anyone who was here when the riot started. That was not a magical fire. The marauders didn’t need a flamespeaker, they had torches. ”

“I saw.” The sergeant drummed his fingers on the hilt of his sword. “I also saw you take a Cerberus on single-handedly. You both have my thanks. But it makes me wonder. What kind of madwoman would go against the wishes of their god?”

“The kind that doesn’t like hurting people,” Chandra spat. “Can we go? That wasn’t exactly easy back there.”

The man’s eyes narrowed, his lips pressed into a thin line.

There was so much Gideon wanted to say, but he couldn’t find the words. No one would believe that Chandra wasn’t a follower of Purphoros, and talk of other planes would only get them labeled insane.  He couldn’t believe how petty the gods of his childhood seemed to be.

He opened his mouth to try anyway when brilliant light flooded the harbor. The sergeant gulped and bowed low. Gideon slowly turned around.

Heliod stood amid the wreckage of the docks, daylight flooding out from his laurel crown. The God of the Sun looked different than he had when Gideon met him so many years ago. There were harsh lines around his mouth that hadn’t been there before, and his feet hovered above the surface of the pier without ever touching it, as if gravity was a formality he’d decided to ignore.

The last time Gideon had looked into the god’s eyes had been like bathing in the glow of a cloudless sunrise. Now it felt like staring directly into the midday sun. Gideon lowered his head, shielding his eyes from the glare.

“Well done, hero.” Heliod’s voice boomed across the harbor. “Your deeds are worthy of recognition.”

Gideon bit the inside of his cheek. Everyone who’d lifted a spear against the raiders was a hero. Heliod could be talking to anyone here, anyone else.

The air hummed as if it were about to break and spill them all into the Blind Eternities. Gideon had only felt that sensation once before, when he’d come face-to-mask with the titan Ulamog. A firm hand clapped him on the shoulder, and Heliod’s voice boomed once more. “Lift your gaze, champion.”

“All I did was kill a cerberus.” Gideon kept his gaze averted. “I’m not worthy to be your champion.” Not again.

Heliod’s laughter echoed off the cliffs. “So modest. Only a cerberus, you say?” Heliod shifted his spear to his other hand and Gideon felt his bones vibrate with its passing. “I say you are worthy. That is all that matters.” A shaft of sunlight lanced down into the god’s outstretched hand and formed into a mirror of Heliod’s own weapon. “Erebos has unleashed a monster upon Setessa, the likes of which should never have seen the mortal world. Take this, and destroy the abomination.”

Heliod thrust the sunspear into Gideon’s arms. He fumbled his sword in surprise, and his hand closed around the spear’s shaft as the sword clattered to the ground. A wide smile split the god’s face and his form tripled in size to tower over the harbor. “Take heart Meletis. Behold the champion who will drive back the darkness.”

Gideon looked at the glowing spear in his hands with disgust. It was the same. The same as all those years ago, when his arrogance had cost his friends their lives. He wanted nothing more than to drop the sunspear and walk away, but he could feel the people looking at him. Every eye in the harbor was drawn to Heliod, and to him. These people were hurt and scared. Some had lost their homes in the attack. Everyone had lost friends, brothers, comrades. They wanted something to put their hope in. They wanted—no, they needed a symbol. With a heavy heart he took hold of the spear in both hands. “I accept.”

“Go forth, and find victory!” Heliod thrust his own spear skyward and a wave of nausea nearly made Gideon double over. Then the god vanished with the sunset, leaving the harbor in darkness.

Gideon let out a heavy breath. He’d been hoping to avoid the gods during this trip. That had been too much to ask, it seemed. He turned to face the sergeant, who’d been standing behind him without uttering a sound since Heliod appeared. “I’m sorry. We were talking.”

“Doesn’t matter now.” The sergeant slashed his hand in a sharp gesture. “I want you and that cursed thing out of my polis by sunrise. The flamespeaker too.” He removed his helmet, and Gideon saw that his bearded face was ashen with fear. “I’m sorry. You seem like good people. Probably deserved better than a hero’s doom.” Then he tucked his helmet into the crook of his arm and marched away.

“That probably could’ve gone better.” Chandra had taken a seat on an upturned bucket. “I thought people here were into the whole hero shtick.”

“They were.” Gideon stared at the sergeant retreating back in disbelief, then glanced up at the statue of Heliod that stood before the harbor’s entrance. He felt lost. What happened since I left?

“So are we leaving?” Chandra yawned so hard that Gideon heard her jaw pop. “You know I’m all for ignoring the city guard when they get bossy.”

“I think Meletis is a dead end now.” Gideon tried to keep the bitterness of that admission out of his voice. “I’d hoped to find a lead here, but it’s looking less likely by the day. We’ll check out that farmer that claimed to have seen a demon before deciding on a course.”

They trudged back to the tavern in near-silence. The streets were almost deserted after dark, but the few people they did happen across skirted around the pair with looks of open fear and distrust leveled at the weapon in Gideon’s hand. Once there, Gideon packed quietly while Chandra curled up on the bed. For once she slept quietly, utterly exhausted by her work at the harbor.

Once he’d fit everything except his weapons and Chandra’s pile of armor into their bags, Gideon sat on the foot of his bead and stared at the spear leaning in the corner. Even from a few feet away he could feel the power radiating off it. When he’d held the weapon earlier he’d felt it pulling at him like the needle of a compass, trying to drag him southward. That was roughly where Setessa should lie, where Heliod had said Erebos’s Champion had come forth. It would seem this weapon had been crafted for a singular purpose.

He’d meant to restore some measure of hope to those hurt in the riot; instead he’d been all but branded as a pariah. Heliod had always been a willful and hot-tempered figure, but that made him an object of healthy respect, not outright fear. Gideon flopped back onto the bed. It’s never easy, is it?

 *  *  *

Gideon rose in the grey light of pre-dawn. After shaking Chandra to some degree of consciousness, they put on their packs and left quietly. There were even fewer people in the streets this time, but as they approached the gate out of the polis Gideon caught sight of a lone woman standing in the center of the road.

Everything about her seemed ethereal and otherworldly, from the way her white gown seemed to ripple and bleed into the morning fog to how her eyes sometimes seemed to reflect the stars of Nyx despite the heavy clouds that darkened the sky. As they drew closer Gideon noticed her arms. Or rather, her other arms.

While the woman’s hands lay clasped before her, a pair of spectral limbs strummed the air in front of her as if they plucked the strings of an invisible harp. Gideon had never encountered one of Kruphix’s chosen before, but no one would mistake her for anything else.

Gideon drew to a halt a few feet in front of her. “You must be Kydele.”

“The same.” One of her spectral hands waved jovially, but the rest of her remained serene and composed.

“Great,” Chandra grumbled. “More prophets. Just what we need.”

“We tried to reach you before.” Gideon smiled. “You’re a difficult person to find.”

“I was away.” Kydele’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “There is much that you need to know.”

Chandra snorted. “What’cha selling it for?”

Kydele crossed her real arms and planted her spectral ones firmly on her hips. “Ob Nixilis raided the Underworld last night. His treachery . . . I will not speak of it. But he emerged from the darkness with an army of demons at his back. It is a host unlike any that has ever walked these lands. Theros can no longer afford your doubts planeswalkers.”

Gideon reeled back. “How do you—” he stopped. Of course she knew. Knowing the unknowable was what Kruphix did. “Where is he?”

“Not on Theros. The demon left as soon as Erebos evicted him from the underworld.”

“Then tell us where he will strike when he returns.”

Her eyebrow twitched. Just once. “I can’t.”

“Why not?” Chandra said. “Isn’t your god psychic or something?”

“Lord Nixilis is treacherous.” Kydele’s voice was tight with anger. “He intends to raze one of the poleis to the ground in a week’s time, but he hasn’t decided which. He will simply strike at whichever is most vulnerable at the time.”

Gideon’s fingers tightened around the sunspear. It was an ingenious plan. Simple, efficient, and specifically designed to further divide and confuse whichever members of the Gatewatch had come to answer the demon’s challenge. “I’m not sure what we can do, Kydele. We’re just two people. If what you’re saying is correct you don’t need a hero, you need an army. Three of them.”

“To the contrary.” Kydele’s phantom arms swayed to the beat of some unheard music. “You are already on the right path. Heliod doesn’t understand the nature of Erebos’s champion, but he did not underestimate the threat she poses.”

Gideon blinked. “You’re saying that this champion is allied with Ob Nixilis?” He had quietly hoped that Heliod’s quest wouldn’t come into conflict with their hunt for the demon, but he’d never believed life would be that kind.

Kydele’s answering nod brought a quiet sigh of relief from him. “It would not be inaccurate to call her the most deadly threat on Theros.”

“Time to kill a big monster then.”  Chandra cracked her knuckles. “It’s about time.”

Kydele shook her head slightly. “No, not a monster. Make no mistake, the champion was once human. You will be facing a peerless warrior from days gone by, returned to life with the full might of the God of the Dead behind her.”

“One week.” That would be enough to deal with the champion of death and make it back to one of the cities. Gideon honestly didn’t know which he should be worried about anymore. Even so, he felt better. He had a goal to pursue, one that would strike a heavy blow against Ob Nixilis. The endless questions and second-guessing could wait. “It will be done. You have my word.”

“Ah.” A slight smile touched Kydele’s lips. “You fear the prophecy.”

Gideon could only chuckle. Of course she knew. “Wouldn’t you?”

One of her ghostly hands cupped his cheek, and for a moment Gideon was sixteen again, looking up at the grizzled face of his mentor Hixus. “There comes a time boy, where you have to choose between what you want to protect, and what you need to.”

Then the moment was gone, and Kruphix’s prophet passed between them and walked into the city.


Helena waited until she’d put several blocks between her and the two planeswalkers before she let her laughter out. It was so easy. All she’d needed was a pair of ghostly arms and they’d bought her most ridiculous claims without question. They were almost begging to be fooled. And the big one had been so sincere about the whole thing, too. The look on his face when he’d promised to slay Erebos’s champion had been priceless. She’d nearly lost it in the middle of the street.

“Not your best work.” Phenax’s voice had a slight edge to it. “You’re getting sloppy.”

It worked, didn’t it? Helena inspected the nails of the illusionary hands. She’d have to remember this form. Even if the theatrics had been a bit hard to fudge, the authority it granted her was priceless. Do you mind?

A shiver passed through her and the extra limbs faded away. “You’re playing with fire. Kruphix doesn’t take kindly to those who forge his mark.”

Well that’s your problem, isn’t it? She shifted midstride, taking the form of a smith’s apprentice from down by the market. The white dress was still a bit conspicuous, but with this body’s broad shoulders it looked more like a long-outgrown sack than an elegant gown. You’re the one who has to deal with him for all eternity.

“Girl . . .” Phenax’s voice dripped with menace.

Don’t worry. Helena shook out her newly frizzy hair and turned towards the forum. Things are about to get very exciting. Kruphix won’t have time to notice me, let alone get mad.

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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