This is part five of an article series analyzing the character of Jace Beleren. Be sure to read the first four parts as well.

For all of his forward progress, Jace cannot be entirely free of his past on Useless Island. The first illusion he makes dislodges something in his mind, and he starts receiving visitors. All his life, Jace has been haunted by specters of the past. Why should now be any different?

As he explored and learned, he became used to the visions he would see along the way.

Some had more shape than others. Usually they were humanoid, with faces and voices of their own.

A woman with snow-white skin and elaborate white hair who would float behind him, taking note of his actions in a journal. A bailiff, stern faced with a blue cape and silver armor. A leon in missing an eye.

Tamiyo, Lavinia, and Ajani; but these three are only the warm-up. In a very Dickensian move, Jace will be visited by the three ghosts of Esper Past, in color pie order no less. Be sure to watch the specific circumstances that cause these visions to appear. We start with White:

The hallucination sighed. “You and I both know you’re not suited to this. Let me handle it, you go philosophize on the other end of the beach.”

“I said I can do it myself.” The man let his irritation reach his voice.

“No, you can’t. I call the shots and execute, you stand to the side. That’s how this works.”

The man responded by throwing his hook at the hallucination. It went straight through the figure’s eye and landed behind him on the sand.

The first of our Esper triad, Gideon Jura shows up whenever Jace is frustrated with himself. Keep in mind, we’ve never seen Gideon act like this in the actual story; there have been moments where he has sensibly divided up tasks between them, but never in a condescending way. In fact, Gideon has always encouraged Jace to try new things and expand his skillset, and Jace knows that. It is Jace’s subconscious that sees Gideon as a patronizing older brother who doesn’t take him seriously.

Jace is performing manual labor, something he has never done before or ever considered doing, and so his subconscious sends Gideon to vocalize his own misgivings. Gideon is here to tell him that he’s doing the wrong thing and should get back into his Jace-box, where he stands passively to the side and lets other people decide and act. A part of Jace would rather starve to death on the island than step out of his comfort zone, but the rest of him refuses to be kept down.

After White comes White/Black:

“Policies and procedures, section 12, item 4.”

He gasped in surprise. A woman with dark hair and a cane was staring at him from a few feet away down the beach. She wore a white dress with a sun emblem on its front. A dark cloak hung behind her and grazed the sand, and her expression made it clear that she was on a mission.

She impatiently tapped a finger on the handle of her cane.

“I said, ‘Policies and procedures section 12, item 4. Official guild representatives may be granted passage from one guild-controlled place of residence or business to another by virtue of an official warrant’. Do you or do you not agree that that is a standing law?”

Teysa Karlov, the Orzhov lawyer on Ravnica, shows up when Jace is bored. A reminder of his responsibility as Guildpact, Teysa knows Ravnican law like the back of her hand, and thrives on the very same duties he despises. In truth, she would be a far better Guildpact than him. This line is actually a callback to a short story, where Teysa manipulates Jace into confirming this law as part of a broader scheme of hers. She represents his resentment toward his duties, and his latent guilt for failing to uphold them. Teysa follows Jace around, silently judging his work, and lets him know with unspoken, regal disdain that however well he is doing, it is not nearly well enough.

After White and White/Black comes Black, and we all know who that is. Liliana has such power over Jace, she even gets a cameo before her grand appearance:

In his moments of loneliness, he would sometimes see a woman in violet on the edge of his field of vision. A tug of anxiety gripped his chest whenever she walked by.

He sees her when he’s lonely, but feels anxious when she’s actually near: a classic sign of an abusive relationship. Notice that even without the clarity to really picture her, his body stills knows to respond with stress. That’s how far back they go, and how deeply she has affected him. Just like the real Liliana Vess, this illusion leads him on, offering glimpses but biding her time. Liliana is the last vision to come to him, and she strikes when Jace is at his lowest point.

Even if he couldn’t leave, at the very least he wanted someone to talk to.

“You look terrible,” purred a voice from above.

The man moved his hands. An illusion of a woman stood above him. She had raven hair, tired eyes, and a disdainful expression. Her arms were gloved in violet satin and crossed in front of her.

“The muscles are a nice change, but you look awful with facial hair.” Her lips curled in a disdainful sneer.

The man shook his head, tears building in the corner of his eyes.

This goes on for a while, working through her past litany of insults. Eventually Liliana’s illusion gets to the point.

“You can fool the rest of the world with your magic and illusions, but you could never fool me.”

The man wanted to sob. Wanted to go back and sleep. Wanted to starve until all of this went away.

“I don’t know who you are,” he finally admitted with a broken voice.

The woman knelt and looked him in the eye with a cold, crocodilian smile.

“I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this insidious visitation, so we’ll start at the top. She appears when Jace is desperately alone and needs some form of human contact. He will put up with any abuse because in order to hurt him, you first have to acknowledge that he exists. That is the mindset that brought the two of them together every time, so it is no surprise that Jace’s subconscious automatically reaches for her when in that place again.

This conversation is actually a synthesis of interactions with Liliana from previous short stories. In Catching Up, the first thing she says to him is “Lovely place. Shame what you’ve done with it.” In Homesick, she insults his facial hair. In The Promised End, she thinks of him only as boy. In Unwelcome, they both make a big show of how little they trust each other. Again in Homesick, she sees right through his illusions to the man beneath. And anyone who read Amonkhet will know why Jace calls her smile “crocodilian.”

This is a much more accurate depiction than Gideon’s was, as we have seen her express all of these thoughts before. Except for the very last line; that alone, I think, is unlike Liliana. “I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.” Believe it or not, we have never actually seen her express that kind of sentiment before.

Liliana’s feelings toward Jace are opaque and difficult to decipher, but this statement feels too Jace-centric. I believe Liliana has some genuine concern for Jace, but cannot admit it to herself; and that internal conflict means she is at her most introspective and self-absorbed whenever Jace is around. Put another way, Liliana would never form a ranking of the best things in Jace’s life because she is too preoccupied denying her own feelings to put herself in his shoes. She doesn’t care, and I don’t think the idea would ever occur to her. And if Jace did not get this idea from Liliana, he must have found it within himself.

This is what Jace fears the most: that their sickening relationship really is the best thing in his life, and the barest glimmers of kindness she shows him are already more than he deserves. The most terrifying thought in Jace’s head is that when he looks back at all the horrible things Liliana has said and done to him, he should feel grateful to her.

That thought will shove Jace into the pit of despair, and threaten to unravel all the confidence he’s built up on Useless Island. My friends, this is the moment of truth:

The man let his mind drift, and he wondered if the illusion he’d seen was the manifestation of something within himself, or a broken memory of someone close.

She may have been a lover. She may have been a friend.

He wondered if he even had friends.

How could someone who was close to a person like that be deserving of friends?

Then a thought occurred to the man.

“Who I was doesn’t matter . . . because I get to learn who I am now.”

Saying it out loud made it feel real.

“Whoever I was is irrelevant, for I will become whoever I want to become.”

He believed that with all his heart.

Haha! How marvelous! This is the moment that the old Jace rears his head to be decapitated for good! Can’t you see the weight of his insecurity totter, just seconds away from crushing him? “How could I have any worth if I’m friends with someone like her? How can I have any value? Maybe I am worthless.” Right when he’s about to cross the point of no return, he pulls up short. He forces himself out of that thought spiral and resolves to overcome his past. He fought off Gideon, ignored Teysa, and has now overcome Liliana, the greatest test. With his subconscious doubts firmly in check, Jace settles on a course of action:

The man realized what he must do.

He was going to prove to himself that he deserved to live.

Part six tomorrow.

David Walley is only a recent fan of Magic: The Gathering, but a lifelong spectator to stories. After discovering the Magic Story earlier this year, he was greatly impressed by both its strength and subtlety. In his articles, he endeavors to expand the Vorthos community by showcasing the story’s excellence to the average Magic fan.

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