Ob Nixilis

Purphoros proved an adequate distraction, but a disappointing one. It would have simplified matters considerably if he’d taken the field with a second worldslayer and ripped the plane to shreds in his fury, but the God of the Forge had proven more cautious than anticipated. No matter. For a few precious moments, all eyes were on the warring titans.

Under the cover of their battle I took wing and descended into the canyon. The locals had some suitably ominous name for the place, but that wasn’t how I’d discovered it. I’d found this chasm from the other side.

From the Underworld.

The transition was a slow one. A perpetual mist lurked in the chasm, never fully burnt away by the sun’s light. It stifled sound, until the titanic crashes from the sky above faded to muffled thumps were soon overshadowed by the wind rushing past my wings. Another few minutes brought me deep enough that light couldn’t penetrate the miasma. For a brief moment I passed close enough to the canyon walls that I could hear the moans of the returned as they labored their way to the surface. Then, the air turned cold.

The mist opened up, revealing the river that served as this world’s flimsy barrier between life and death. When last I’d come this way the near beach had been all but deserted, home only to a pair of newly-made returned clawing their way out of the waters and the cerberus that mauled them into oblivion moments later.

Now, my army filled the sands.

Calling them an army was an insult to soldiers. I hadn’t had time to instill order, or even so much as take roll call. The newly-minted demons were savage and feral. A few more days of starvation and they’d turn on each other en masse. I had no illusions about their loyalty or coordination. Some problems simply required brute force.

I raised a hand, simultaneously pulling on the mystic tethers that bound them to me. Thousands of gold-masked faces turned up to behold my descent. I let a smile twist my lips and bellowed a command to the gathered fiends. “Rise!”

The demons launched themselves into the air in a shrieking, clawing, bellowing mob. Wings tangled and fouled, sending more than one demon plummeting back to the ground. But they learned fast. It wasn’t long before I turned skyward and started pumping my wings, climbing out of the Underworld with a dark cloud following behind me like a cyclone.

The forerunners shrieked in alarm when we climbed above the mists. They were creatures of the dark and the smog. Thanks to the river they had no memory of the sun, and it terrified them. On any other day it should have, but Heliod was well and truly occupied. They gained confidence quickly, and we were climbing again.

We crested over the lip of the canyon like a breaching wave, demons filling the air like locusts. Akros lay below us, a small but well-defended fort of marble and granite perched on the edge of a bottomless chasm. The defender’s discipline was commendable. Barely a second passed between the first demons emerging from the canyon and the first alarm bells sounding, calling soldiers to arms and warning the citizens of danger. All very well practiced, all very efficient.

All very worthless.

The demons answered the first bells with bloodthirsty screeches and folded their wings. They plummeted towards the first living beings they’d seen with much abandon and little planning, falling on soldiers and watchmen two or three at a time. And so the slaughter began.

My forces overran the cliffside gatehouse in moments. Akros’s defenses were admirable, but it hadn’t been designed to stand up to a sudden aerial assault. This was the least-defended of the city’s gates, home to a skeleton crew of soldiers with questionable records.

Arrows started to whistle through the air around me as defenders gathered in the nearby courtyard. Most missed, but some found their marks. Demons fell from the sky, some shrieking in pain and others deathly silent.

I cast a baleful glance at the gathering phalanx and commanded my forces upward, climbing out of the archer’s range. The gatehouse was left as a smoking ruin, a stain on the once-pristine city. I wheeled, bringing the demons around in a wide circle before descending to wreck havoc on a phalanx that was still tumbling from their barracks.

The pattern was simple. Isolate a vulnerable target, strike hard and fast, withdraw before the opposition could make sense of what was happening. I struck at the gatehouses first, sealing the ways out of the city and leaving a few hundred demons behind to guard each. The walls of Akros had been a shield for its people for centuries. Now, they would be its tomb.

I’d just finished sealing the fourth gate when a frantic woman broke through my defenders and charged towards me. She was no soldier, too fat to pass muster in the demanding Akroan army and clutching a spoon in one hand as if she was determined to scoop my eyes from my head. Probably a cook of some sort.

I raised my sword to strike her down, but she skidded to a stop and shuddered, her plump frame warping and stretching into a familiar form. “Lord Nixilis,” she cried out desperately. “It’s me!”

Ah. The young planeswalker I’d ambushed outside of Meletis a few months ago. She’d proven unexpectedly helpful. I lowered the greatsword, resting the blade on my shoulder. “Report.”

“Most of the city’s defenders are gone. I tricked King Anax into taking his army afield. The remaining soldiers are either too old to march or too reckless to be trusted. Your biggest opponent is going to be Queen Cymede. She’s a powerful mage, and too clever for her own good.”

“And Jura?”

She shook her head. “No sign of him.”

“Well done.” I stepped forward and decapitated her with a diagonal slash.

Her head rolled away before I could see her reaction, but the body staggered once before it collapsed and slowly dissolved into bluish ooze.

Not the original then. A pity.

“You.” I pointed to a corpulent demon whose mask resembled a jester’s leering face. “Take a flight of demons, kill anyone who comes here.” The demons here weren’t capable of speech, but the wet slurping sounds that echoed from beneath its mask conveyed unmistakable eagerness.

I took wing once more, flicking spells of putrid death and agony at the civilians below. A few tried to run, but most stood their ground and died valiantly, hurling spears and stones and bits of cracked pottery up at their the circling host. Akros really was a city of heroes.

I drifted away from the mob, scanning the rooftops for movement. Any moment now. Akros was a militaristic city. Soon enough . . .

The volcano erupted, a single deafening explosion that filled the sky with ash and lava and slammed me through a tiled roof. I picked myself up and climbed back through the hole I’d left, healing ruptured eardrums with a flash of magic. Purphoros towered triumphantly over the countryside. Heliod was gone, either destroyed or fled. Then the titanic god vanished in a burst of flame, leaving behind an ash-choked sky and rivers of magma bleeding from the sundered peak. That wasn’t what I’d been looking for.

Lightning ripped across the sky, tearing a jagged line through the disorientated demons. A dozen fell to the ground and were instantly set upon by spearmen. I followed the jagged afterimages back to their source. The highest tower of the Kolophon, where a lone figure stood in the wind, dark red fabric whipping around her as she gathered another crackling bolt to unleash. A smile twisted my lips.

That was more like it.

I flew low, risking the odd arrow from the stunned soldiers below to avoid the stormcaller’s attention. She was good, I’d give her that. Lightning flew from her fingertips thick and fast, striking the tightest clusters of my troops and arcing between them dozens of times before striking ground.

For all her might, her thunder only kept her from hearing the wind on my wings as I swooped in from behind the tower and seized her by the throat, dragging her off the platform before she could resist. I was about to release her and let her fall to her death on the stones far below us, but to my surprise there was a delicate crown in her hair.

“Queen Cymede,” I laughed. “Leading by example I see. That’s rather refreshing, actually. I like a ruler with spine.”

Her face twisted through a rapid series of pain, shock, and determination. The lightning bolt slammed into me before I fully registered the last emotion, making one of my wings spasm and sending us plummeting before I regained control.

“Stop that,” I growled. “You’d be more useful as a bargaining chip.” She wouldn’t, not really, but I needed her angry.

Her response this time came with a violent updraft that nearly wrenched my wings from their sockets, followed an instant later by another lightning bolt.

The theatrics were crucial. The Akroans knew their queen was a lightning mage. I needed them to see the thunder arcing towards me again and again in a vain attempt to strike me down. I needed the whole city to understand what it meant when the storm died.

The queen bit my hand, electricity crackling through her and making my arm go numb. A vicious gust nearly ripped her from my grasp, and I only hung on by sinking my claws into her arm. She dangled below me like a macabre flag.

Enough theatrics.

I wrenched her up and ran her through with my sword. Her breath faltered midsnarl, and she coughed up blood as she tried to claw at me with the last of her strength. A fighter to the end. I waited until her eyes misted over and the last rumbles of thunder died around us before I pushed her corpse off my blade and let her fall to the city below. Three demons shrieked and dived after her, tearing the body to shreds before it hit the ground.

Burning rocks from the volcano began to rain down around me, tinting the air with smoke and sulfur. Buildings burst into flames where they landed, accelerating the destruction of the city. I flicked the blood off my sword and scanned the rooftops again. Looking for the next hero to step forward.

And so they did. Elders and children they might be, but the Akroans had no shortage of bravery. They fought savagely, far beyond the point when others would surrender or beg for mercy. Once I even looked up to see Iroas reaching down to smite me before Mogis ripped his brother away. I soon lost track of how many times a cornered shopkeeper grabbed a fallen soldier’s blade and cut down dozens of my troops before I put an end to them. I’d expected nothing less. The training that had produced Jura was born in a culture that beat weakness from its children before they could walk. The real mystery was how Jura had turned out so honorable.

I’d just finished off one such upstart when I felt a momentary stillness in the chaos. Not a lull like the ones that happen when combatants catch their breath, this was more like all sound and motion was robbed form the battlefield for a single heartbeat. One of my masked soldiers stumbled, caught unawares by the barely-perceptible shift.

Someone had just changed the board.

I took off, wheeling high above the city until I pinpointed the source of the disturbance. Four figures crouched in the ruined gatehouse of the foreigner’s quarter, the shadows clinging to them. Two of the figures were unfamiliar. Two were unmistakable. Jura and his pet. Newly arrived and still stunned by the slaughter.

I folded my wings and plummeted, guiding my descent with small corrections as I readied my blade for a crushing blow. Aerial surprise attacks were tricky. Go in too fast and it’s easy to ram the ground at full speed. Pick an unfortunate angle and your prey can spot you from hundreds of feet off.

Centuries without wings had left me out of practice, but when my wings snapped open thirty feet above the creeping quartet I instantly knew that I’d done it perfectly. My sword snapped out, whispering through the wind in a powerful overhead cut that had the full force of my fall behind it. The blade sank into the gap between his pauldrons and his neck, only to be met with an eruption of golden light that stopped the blade cold.

I landed behind him and instantly had to hop back to avoid the backwards thrust of his glowing spear. No sural this time. Helena had gotten that much right, at least.


“Nixilis.” His features were grim when he turned to face me head-on, much like they had been before our first battle.

“I’m disappointed. You showed such promise on Zendikar, and now this? How many Akroans could you have saved if you’d stayed here and helped them prepare? If you’d just warned them of my presence?” I smiled and twisted the knife deeper. “Your friends don’t even know you’re alive, do they?”

Jura didn’t reply. I saw the pain my words caused in his eyes, but unlike the last time we’d clashed he didn’t rise to my bait, didn’t let the self-doubt make his stance waver in the slightest. The other three spread out slowly, moving to encircle me.

Well then. No need for pretenses.

I lunged, driving my sword at Nalaar and blasting one of the others with a beam of purple energy. Jura put himself between me and the pyromancer without hesitation, catching the tip of my blade with his shield and knocking the blow wide. The lance of magic evaporated into blue mist. They’d brought a mage, a mere boy who looked like he was on the verge of fainting.

The other three attacked as one, Jura and the woman in rags lunging from in front and behind while the pyromancer lobbed a fireball at my feet. I parried Gideon’s spear and hopped over the flames, but the woman’s spear gouged a painful track along my ribs. This wasn’t sustainable.

I leapt into the air and pumped my wings, climbing rapidly. I’d expected to take a fireball for the retreat, but instead the unfamiliar woman sprouted wings of light from her back and flew at me with a feral cry.

I parried her spear and kicked her in the face. Her nose splattered against her cheek, but seconds later it started to heal. She charged recklessly, stabbing and slashing as if desperate to land a single hit. I gave ground freely, drawing her up toward the demons.

“I remember you,” I said as I caught a vicious thrust on my shoulder spikes. “That hopeless idealist from the underworld. What was it you said? ‘The dead can never die,’ or some nonsense?” I twisted inside her reach and severed her arm at the shoulder. “You should really worry about dismemberment though.”

Demons swarmed to the scent of blood, burying her in a writhing sphere of flesh and tangled wings. I saw her fumble a knife from her belt and plunge it into an assailant’s chest before the press became too great and the warrior plummeted to the ground, buried under a mound of clawing, darkened flesh. I’d have to watch out for her other companion, the red-handed planeswalker who’d turned my own magic against me the last time.

A faint whoosh reached my ears an instant before a blazing comet seared across my cheek. I threw a hex behind me and flew off, landing in an alleyway a few blocks away. One of my lieutenants landed beside me, bits of flesh and what looked like scales clinging to her barbed pike. There was a story there, but it didn’t matter.

“There’s four heroes fighting in the cliffside gatehouse. Drive them from the polis and kill them. Devote all of our forces to eliminating them.”

“All of them Lord?” If I remembered right this one had been some famous general from a bygone age. She certainly understood the tactical folly I’d just asked of her. “We could lose the polis.”

“Akros doesn’t matter.” I waved her concern aside. “The general and the pyromancer are my only objectives.

She left without further question. Within minutes the demonic hordes overhead swirled and dove, descending on the gatehouse like a cloud. I turned away and climbed to the top of a nearby house, where I’d be able to direct the assault.

Jura craved a fair fight. I had no reason to give him one.

The first stages of the assault went to plan. My lieutenants brought their forces down like a wave, scouring the streets near the wall clean with sheer force of numbers and driving the few survivors that remained towards the ruined gatehouse. It didn’t take long for the attack to flush Jura and his allies out. They responded with force and fury, cutting deeply into the swarm.

But they couldn’t shield more than a handful of people from the onslaught, and steady pressure applied to their more vulnerable compatriots was enough to corral them. Slowly, messily, inevitably, they were driven against the walls and bottled into the only shelter left to them: the smoldering ruins of the gatehouse I’d first found them in.

From there the pressure intensified. Wave upon wave of demons crashed into the gatehouse, threatening to batter it down by sheer numbers if nothing else worked. Jura and the undead warrior stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway, slaughtering my forces until the bodies piled so high around them that the demons had to stay aloft while they fought.

But for all their tenacity, they were still mortal. Eventually Jura began to flag. His strikes slowed, and as my demons dragged corpses clear of the door for the fourth time I felt the certainty that this would be the last push.

That was when an explosion shook the gatehouse, loud enough to hurt my ears from hundreds of feet away. I took to the air, shifting vantage points so I could see the other side of the gatehouse. The heavy metal gate had been blasted out from the wall, leaving a gaping hole in the stonework

Nalaar strode through the smoke and rubble, leading a pathetically small string of survivors out onto a narrow bridge that stretched across the chasm. Jura and the undead brought up the rear in a fighting retreat, but it was over and everyone knew it. Against normal opponents, those two might have been able to hold the bridge indefinitely, no matter the army that pursued them. Against demons, there was nothing they could do to stop my forces from ripping their allies from the bridge and throwing them to their deaths.

The first body went flying, its wail lost in the battle. I smiled, savoring the sight of the old man flailing before he hit the cliff and splattered. That was when things went wrong.

An explosion rocked the bridge, And I flinched away from the light as Nalaar blazed like the heart of a sun. Demons veered away from her with cries of dismay, and even her allies turned and ran, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the deadly heat as possible.

She thrust her hands skyward, blasting a huge fireball into the demons above. As if in answer Mount Velus erupted once more, throwing lava and molten stone high into the air. I watched the lava shift mid-air, arcing toward the bridge like a breaching whale before it crashed down over the battle. My army was broken in an instant and somehow, impossibly, the bridge stood unscathed, only the smallest flecks of molten stone clinging to its sides.

Purphoros’s blessing. Nalaar had made a deadly ally.

My eyes narrowed when I spotted the dark silhouette of Jura slogging through the flames to stand next to her. Nothing for it but to wait out the carnage.

The best army would’ve broken under that devastation, let alone rabble like these. Not one in fifty demons still stood, and most of the ones I spotted were trying to slink away into the shadows or down into the mists of the chasm. A few stayed and fought on the bridge; but between Jura, Nalaar, and the others the result was inevitable.

I watched from above as they fought off the last of the fiends, searching for the tiniest flaw in their teamwork that would give me an edge. Jura and Nalaar worked as a tightly-knit unit, far more experienced than the last time we’d clashed. Jura focused on defense, intercepting attacks and letting the pyromancer blast away without fear. When one slipped up the other covered for them instantly, leaving precious few openings to exploit.

The woman was another story. She was obviously skilled; our spat in the underworld had shown me that much. But she fought with an odd mix of rage and lethargy, as if she was desperately clinging to revenge but had already given up on claiming it. Even against one or two demons she made mistakes, let her foes land devastating blows in exchange for halfhearted strikes of her spear.

It would be a trifle to swoop down and finish her, but her regeneration had already proven to make that a pointless exercise. A jagged, clawed arm made of dusk and shadow had already replaced the arm I’d severed, and half a dozen smaller injuries had already faded into nothingness.

I whispered a spell and sent a silent blade of darkness straight at Nalaar’s heart. Jura threw his arm up and the blade of oblivion splintered in a flash of golden magic. A pity. If she fell, Jura would follow gladly.

Heroes love a pointless sacrifice.

One enemy that was immune to most harm, one that recovered from any injury. Nalaar was the obvious weakness to exploit, but Jura never strayed far enough from her for me to get a clear shot. That just left . . . the fourth. There had been a boy with them, the young mage with a gift for countermagic. I circled, searching the battlefield below for any sign of him, to no avail. He might have fled, but that was unlike the company Jura attracted. I narrowed my eyes and waited, searching the battlefield for an inconsistency.

Tense seconds ticked by, punctuated by hurled fireballs that I swerved away from. For a long time it seemed there was nothing, then I glimpsed a loose javelin on the ground jerk sideways and clatter off the side of the bridge. I thrust my hand forward, filling the area with raw agony. Jura weathered the onslaught unflinchingly, but Nalaar screamed in anguish. More importantly the boy flickered into view a dozen feet away, clutching his head.

I landed before him, a wide grin on my face as the boy jerked upright and tried to scramble away. Not fast enough. I broke his collarbone with a kick and drove my sword through his chest.

His eyes went wide with shock, and I laughed at how startled he looked. This was probably the first time the boy had gotten more than a papercut.


The scream was Jura’s. I could hear him charging down the street, his footfalls heavy on the stones. I turned to face him, but my blade didn’t rip free of the body like I’d expected. I looked back in surprise, to see him clinging to the crossguard of my sword with both hands, his boyish face set in a snarl.

“You killed Thanasis you bastard.” His eyes burned with fury.

I probably had at some point, but I had no idea who he was talking about. I kicked him in the chest. I felt ribs cave in under the blow, but he only clung on tighter. Dark mist was already rising from his wounds. Repairing them, fixing the damage. Another undead.

“You. Killed. Thanasis.” Chains of blue mist snapped into existence, locking his thin wrists to the hilt of my sword.

Jura was close now. Too close. I dropped the sword and whirled, catching the charging hero with a heavy backhand. At the same time his spear grazed my back and left a blazing line of pain below my wings.

Not bad, but he’d overcommitted on distance, sacrificing his reach advantage to put himself between me and the boy. I grabbed the spearshaft before he could retract it and clung on. When he retracted the weapon I let him pull me with it, placing me chest to chest with him and tangling the long weapon between us.

For a split second our eyes met, and I saw the joy of the fight spark within him. A wide smile spread across his face as he sank into a low wrestling stance. I’d studied the Akroan style enough to counter his first few traps, but he was the better wrestler, and there were no convenient puddles this time. He took me down hard, slamming my cheek into the stone of the bridge and wrenching my arm hard behind my back. It would break soon.

I shifted my weight against the pressure, intentionally making my knee an easy target. He went for it without hesitation, and moments later my leg was bent against the joint, my whole right side crying out in pain.

Still can’t escape your own training boy.

He’d all but immobilized me, but he’d freed my left arm in the process. I gathered my strength and threw my weight against the pressure. My arm broke, and I cried out as my knee popped from its socket, but for just a moment my shattered limbs slipped through his grasp, and momentum was on my side. I planted my good foot and drove my shoulder into his gut, ripping him off me and throwing him towards the edge of the bridge.

He caught himself against the low wall and his eyes widened as he realized just how close he’d come to plummeting into oblivion. His hair whipped into his face by the winds, blocking his vision for a moment.

That was all I needed to grab the fallen sunspear and lunge. With only one good leg my form was terrible and there wasn’t much strength behind the blow. But there wouldn’t take much to topple him over the wall.

At the last moment he brought his invulnerability up, golden magic gleaming. As if in response brilliant white light flared from the spearhead, blinding me. I felt an impact reverberate through the spear, and then I was slumped against the wall, blinking to try to bring my vision back sooner. From somewhere above I heard a titanic voice, reverberating through the sky.

“Die alone, traitor. Die in fear. Die like the insect you are.”

It wasn’t until my vision returned that I understood. Jura stood next to me, staring down in horror. His whole body still shimmered with golden light as if there wasn’t a spear piercing through his chest like a spit. He coughed, small flecks of blood staining his lips. For just a moment I saw Heliod’s smirking face in the stars of Nyx, looking down on his former champion with pure hatred.

A furious scream ripped through the silence and suddenly everything was fire. My wings ignited, my skin cracked and blackened, and I felt my blood boiling away from my open wounds. I curled into a ball and wrapped my wings around me, anything to keep the heat away, to last even a second longer against the fiery assault. I could hear Nalaar screaming and cursing, but the words were lost in the roar of the flames.

I couldn’t fight like this. I needed to get away, retreat offworld. Heal, regroup and strike again later. Jura’s death was enough for today. I just needed a moment to focus.

Fingers seized my shoulder, cool in the middle of the inferno. The flames died down for a moment, and I saw that Jura stood before me. Impossibly unscathed by the flames, his whole body shimmered with golden invulnerability. I tried to fight him off, but he brushed my feeble struggles away and hoisted me up. Then the world tipped sideways and we were both falling.

Jura kept one of my wings pinned to my back, keeping me from even trying to steady my descent as we tumbled into the chasm.

We hit something hard and rocky, and the descent became a nightmare of tumbling and bouncing, of broken bones and nausea. Jura was ripped away from me by one of the impacts, but it didn’t matter. I was too far gone to planeswalk if I tried. Then everything came to a halt with a single thunderous impact and the world slipped away.

I didn’t know how long it was until consciousness returned in a haze of pain. The wounds were healing, but right now even breathing hurt. No matter. I forced myself to stagger to my feet and looked around. I stood on the darkened sands of the underworld, barely ten feet from the lethal waters of the river. The ground was trampled for as far around as I could see in the mists, the marks of thousands of demonic feet leaving it an ugly and pockmarked mess.

It didn’t take long to find Jura. The impact had driven him into the sand like a boulder, leaving him at the bottom of a small crater with the butt of the sunspear rising from it like a ship’s mast. As I approached he tried to rise and collapsed, the sand around him slowly turning red.  His skin still shimmered with invulnerability even as his strength failed him, clinging to his shield with an impressive effort of will. He should know by now that there are more ways to cause pain than blades and spells.

“You missed your best shot, Jura.” I seized him by the hair and hauled him to his feet. “Not a bad move though. Remove me from the field with a single stroke and the threat to your home is gone.” I leered down at him. “Do you really think I’m that foolish? Akros was a distraction, Jura. Your gods will tear this world asunder in their greed. I’m only here to make sure you don’t survive.”

He pushed weakly against my grip, his eyes turning glassy underneath his golden aura.

I twisted him around and dragged him along behind me, his feet dug two thick grooves in the sand next to the thinner track left by the sunspear’s bloodstained tip. He struggled of course, but it wasn’t until he saw the river drawing near that I felt him panic, bucking and writhing against the claws tangled in his hair.

I laughed, the sound echoing coldly in the cavernous void. “Your shield might actually be able to protect you from the waters, but we both know you’ll have problems breathing. I wonder which death you’ll choose.”

We reached the bank and I spread my wings, wincing against the sting of the healing blisters. A quick flight out to the deeper waters would ensure he couldn’t flounder his way back to shore, but I couldn’t risk it on crippled wings. Dumping him here would be good enough.

“Let him GO!”

The pyromancer plummeted onto the beach, half falling and half stumbling down the last of the cliffside. Her corona of flames had turned pure white, blazing so brightly that it left spots in my vision.

I chuckled and raised a hand, preparing to finally end the troublesome child.

Jura’s hands locked around my wrist at the same moment that he kicked the back of my knee with all of his remaining strength. My leg buckled, and I had a moment to appreciate his tenacity before we plunged into the river together.


Something flew past my head in the darkness. That was the least of my worries. The image from a moment ago was still etched into my mind. The demon, burned and limping but still somehow alive. Gids, the sunspear still protruding from his chest as the demon lifted him off the ground. Golden light engulfed Gideon, shielding him from harm even now. Then he’d met my eyes and done something to trip the demon, dragging them both into the river behind them.

Come on Gids, I thought as I sprinted to the place where they’d fallen from the riverbank. You survived jumping off a cliff, don’t you dare drown on me.

I skidded to a stop at the edge of the rocky shore. The water was deep here, and Gids and the demon had both sunk a few feet beneath the surface.  Gids was still glowing, a golden beacon beneath the waves.

He can’t breathe.

I panicked and plunged my arm into the river. Daggers of ice plunged into my skin and I jerked back with a yelp of pain. After even a moment in the water I couldn’t feel my arm, and my fingers were purple where they poked out of my gauntlet. My flames boiled away the drops that clung to me, but they didn’t warm my deadened arm. As I clutched the numb limb to my chest my eyes fell on Ob Nixilis.

The demon thrashed like a dragon in its death throes, his body melting and warping like wax. Even after just a few seconds, his eyes had vanished, replaced by a smooth dome of a head with no features other than gnashing mouth. That’s not just water, I realized. It’ll do that to Gids if he drops the shield.

No time to think. Rage and fear and nauseating dread erupted from me in a torrent of fire. I thrust my hands forward, throwing every drop of fire I could muster at the river. Steam boiled up with an angry hiss, choking the already murky skies. Doubt clawed at my guts. If the steam from the river was as deadly as the water I’d just doomed us both.

Save Gids. Nothing else mattered.

The thought tightened my focus. My flames went from orange to blue to searing white, the loose torrent narrowing down to a welder’s jet. I repeated the thought like a mantra.

Save Gids. The flames formed a wall of fire at the water’s edge, hissing and spitting like ten thousand dynacharged cats. Save Gids. Push the wall forward, into the river. Save Gids. Bend the wall outward, scouring the water from a C-shaped patch of land. The river tried to fill it in, but I was boiling water too fast. Save Gids. Step forward, onto the riverbed. Save Gids. Forward. Save Gids. Deeper. Save Gids. The wall of fire closed in behind me, leaving me in a tunnel of fire surrounded by deadly water on all sides. Save Gids. Deeper, my head wend below the surfecae, and my world became a narrow tornado of fire. Save Gids. Would I even be able to find him? I couldn’t see the glow of his shield through the fire, and I wasn’t sure which way was which anymore. Save Gids damnit. Save—clang.

My toes throbbed, but my heart soared when I looked down and saw that I’d just kicked Gideon’s fancy leg armor. Everything else was sticking out through the wall of fire, but he was still glowing. I knelt down next to him, but I didn’t dare drop either hand to grab him. That would just let the river come crashing down on my head. I was so close, but I could feel the panic clawing at my throat.

Don’t think. Just use the biggest boom you know.

I lunged down, scooping Gids up in my arms and blasting the riverbed with everything I had in the same motion.

The backblast kicked me full in the chest like a dragon’s tail and I blacked out for a second. When I came back I was soaring through the dusky air, Gids cradled tight against my chest as we plummeted back towards the black river.

Skyraces Chandra, some frantic corner of my mind gibbered. You’ve watched enough goblins crash into buildings to know how to hit the ground! I kicked my feet out, shooting twin trails of fire streaking into the darkness. Our path curved just enough that we crashed hard into the edge of the beach.

My shoulder crunched and suddenly my whole arm was throbbing. Gids tumbled away with a pained grunt, but that meant he was still breathing. All I wanted was collapse next to him, but I cranked up the flames that crackled around my. Steam rose from his shield, the last traces of the riverwater boiling away to nothing.

I waited until I was certain that nothing was left until I let the flames die away. His eyes were glassy and his skin was dangerously pale under the gold glow, but after a heartstopping pause I saw his chest move. He was breathing, barely.

“You’re okay,” I sobbed. “Hang in there Gids, I’ll get you to a healer, I’ll . . .”

His fingers closed around my hand, squeezing gently. His lips moved faintly as his eyes drooped closed. It took me a few seconds to understand what he’d said. “Thank you.”

Then he went still, and my mind short-circuted.

No. Nonononononononononononononnonononon.

A dreadful chill filled the cavern and broke up my runaway thoughts. I looked up to see a god step across the river. A skeleton made of stars and smoke, Erebos looked down at Ob Nixilis’s transformation like a child burning ants. A terrible grating sound filled the cave as a stone cage rose up around the demon and then sank beneath the surface.

Then Erebos turned his empty eyes on Gideon, and my heart froze in my chest.

The god drifted over, slowly dwindling from titanic proportions to person-sized as he approached. I scrambled to my feet and placed myself between him and Gideon. “Back off. He’s not yours.”

For the first time Erebos turned his gaze on me. I saw my death in his eyes. Or not my death. That wasn’t his thing, I understood now. I saw my being dead. An eternity moldering away in a quiet corner of the underworld, untouched by war, or pain, or fear. Quiet, eternal, peaceful. That’s what he was offering Gideon. Me too, when my time came.

“No.” My fists ignited. “You can’t have him.”

“You can’t save him.” There was no judgment in his voice, no anger.

I looked down at Gideon. He was curled around the spear impaling him. A vein on his neck pulsed slowly, but other than that there was no sign of life. He had seconds left, a minute if I was lucky. Erebos was right. I wasn’t a healer, or a doctor. I couldn’t help him, and there was no one else around.

I spat at the God’s feet. “Watch me.”

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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