Savor_the_Flavor

An Etherium Tale

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The letter T!he Conflux has brought the shards together in a violent collision, a collision that has shaken not just the physical planes but the cultures and ideologies within them. Today we take a look at how the Conflux has affected one shard's struggle to survive and adapt.


Interior, chambers of SHARUUM. XORIN, human archmage of the wizard's sect known as the Architects of Will, speaks to SHARUUM, wise sphinx and the Hegemon of all of Esper.

XORIN
It's disaster, Hegemon. Our world is - melding with these lesser worlds! We're lost if we don't put a stop to this. Damn that Crucius, whose mad work led to all of this!

SHARUUM
Your words contain a contradiction, Xorin.

XORIN
Have they? I – I'm sorry, Hegemon.

SHARUUM
Let this not be a pattern.

A human SCOUT enters.

SCOUT
Hegemon – and sir - I have news from the front.

SHARUUM
Report.

SCOUT
Another spire's been lost. Harborgate.

XORIN (disgusted)
Another? How many this time?

SCOUT
Twenty-seven reported missing. Humans and vedalken, including one officer of the Ethersworn. Plus several homunculi.

SHARUUM
Tell me, scout. What's the loss of etherium?

SCOUT
The metallurgeon estimates that the equivalent of over 20,000 rods of etherium were lost, all told.

SHARUUM
So much...

SCOUT
Yes, Hegemon. And fifteen grid-squares of the Inkwell Sea, subsumed in the planar junction.

XORIN
Muster an invasion squad. If the other planes see fit to take lives of ours -

SHARUUM
Incorrect. First we consult the armillaries.

XORIN
But there's little time, Hegemon. The more we wait, the more of Esper's people we lose.

SHARUUM
Remember the Etherium Texts. "There are patterns on the breath of stars." Or did you believe that the forces of the Conflux were random? We can find that which we've lost.

XORIN (bowing slightly)
As you wish, Hegemon. Scout, fetch a diviner.

SHARUUM
And bring in the representative of the Seekers.

SCOUT
With respect, my lords, I'll do you one better.



The Conflux has meant different things to each of Alara's shards and their denizens. For Esper, it's a disaster to lose so much land and personnel—but the true loss is precious etherium. Quantities of the æther-infused metal are dwindling, which has begun to affect not only the Ethersworn's Noble Work to perfect Esper's life with the metal, but also the prosaic. The prosaic are Esperites who cannot wield magic—definitely a second-class citizen on a world that reveres wizardry. Many of Esper's prosaic citizens earn a living by scavenging etherium from the ugly cesspool quarters of the plane, as Tezzeret's father did. Even those who choose not to scavenge scrap etherium, though, have their lives inextricably linked to the metal, and to the invasion it inspires.


Harborgate, the spire that was lost to an incursion zone, has emerged off the coast of Jhess, a nation of Bant. Standing at the top of the spire, above the waves of Bant's sea, are two sisters: AGATHA, a prosaic soldier, and CALLIO, an officer of the Ethersworn.

AGATHA
The woods are so green. The coastline looks like emeralds from here.

CALLIO
Get your head together, Agatha. Load your crossbow. Help me snare those floaters.

AGATHA
Callio – how could you be so callous? They're dead.

CALLIO
I need them for their etherium. This bulkhead is too solid to cut – I need their lighter filigree.

AGATHA
We're not even in Esper anymore. Can't you think of anything besides etherium? The others are dead. Harborgate has - traveled. It's part of this world now, and so are we.

CALLIO
Quiet. That's treason.

AGATHA (laughing bitterly)
How would you know? None of the Texts ever predicted something like this. And you're the one who wants to shoot our own dead.

CALLIO
Just be practical for a moment, will you? We're stranded in a land beyond our world, thousands of gridlines from home. My retinue and your support homunculi were crushed when the seawater flooded the lower levels. What we need to do is signal someone in Esper that we're alive - and for that we need salvageable etherium.

AGATHA
Fine.

Agatha loads her crossbow with a bolt attached to a long cord. She aims it at one of the bodies floating in the sea below.

CALLIO
Aim for a leg or something – don't damage the neck filigree.

AGATHA
I got it.

Agatha fires.



Recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of the Seekers of Carmot, the sect of mages dedicated to finding the red stone required to create new etherium. Their dogma is clear: send emissaries into the other shards, seeking that stone at any cost. Some mages have misgivings about the Seekers' zeal and single-mindedness, and deeply distrust their eagerness to leave Esper after the convergence of the shards. In truth, most Seekers have no idea that their quest has been motivated by the dragon planeswalker Nicol Bolas.


Sharuum's chambers. A blue-skinned vedalken mage, TRAVIUS, now stands before SHARUUM and XORIN. A large ARMILLARY SPHERE sits in the center of the chamber: a partial model of Alara. Glowing motes of energy float in complicated orbits inside the sphere.

SHARUUM
Travius, is it?

TRAVIUS
Yes, Hegemon. I'm a mage of Magister rank.

XORIN (suspiciously)
You're a Seeker.

TRAVIUS
Of course. I seek the completion of the Noble Work through the discovery of etherium's constituent elements.

SHARUUM
And you can perform divination with an armillary?

TRAVIUS
The paths of these spheres have been etched into our minds. We have several agents already infiltrating the adjoining worlds, tracing the paths of Esper's shifting and merging landmasses, and armillaries are crucial to our work.

SHARUUM casts a significant look at XORIN.

TRAVIUS
You seek the tower of Harborgate, correct?

SHARUUM
Yes. Proceed.

TRAVIUS nods and peers into the armillary sphere for several moments. XORIN barely conceals his disdain. A blue mote of energy floats along the top of the sphere, and TRAVIUS traces its path with a blue-grey finger.

TRAVIUS
Harborgate. It's there, past the Inkwell, past Esper's frontier. It's deep in, but we could guide a squad to it...

XORIN
Make it happen.

TRAVIUS
But... if I might suggest another strategy?



Esper has Bant and Grixis encroaching on its planar flanks. Grixis definitely looks like a hell to those Esperites who've seen it—but from their perspective, even Bant is no heaven. Although Esper shares two colors of mana with Bant, the strange, strong-willed creatures and magics there are bewildering. Most of the Esperites who have experience with the creatures of Bant, in fact, are part of one particular mage sect.


Back to the two sisters in the lost spire of Harborgate. CALLIO is harvesting etherium from a fallen comrade, a grisly affair.

AGATHA (under her breath)
Nothing's worth this.

There's a cry in the distance. An aven of Bant, scouting their location.

AGATHA
Callio, look. What is that?

CALLIO (glancing up)
It's seen us. You're going to have to take it down.

AGATHA
It's diving down toward us, toward the tower. Maybe it can help us!

CALLIO (grimly)
It's going to. Shoot it.

AGATHA
But - no. You're going to enhance it.

CALLIO
Do you want a horde of them to come back for us, and peck out our eyes? They're even more savage than our unenhanced creatures on Esper. Shoot that thing, now.

AGATHA
You've seen these before. You know of this world.

CALLIO
I – yes.

AGATHA (realizing)
You're a Seeker.

CALLIO
Give me that thing.

CALLIO grabs the crossbow out of AGATHA'S hands. Before her sister can react, CALLIO fires at the aven scout, piercing it in the heart. The aven falls into the sea, trailing a long cord back to the spire, and CALLIO's hands.

AGATHA
I thought you were Ethersworn! How long have you been with those fearmongers?

CALLIO (her face hard as ice)
Since... Jaria.

AGATHA
That long? Callio, Jaria - she was not your fault.

CALLIO reels the aven's body toward them slowly, her words even and carefully chosen.

CALLIO
Of course it's my fault. We're an imperfect people, Agatha. We need that metal, and we'll need far more of it than the Ethersworn will ever realize. My daughter was just one of the mistakes - the errors that will spread throughout Esper.

AGATHA
But - look around us. This whole world functions without etherium. This creature you've killed. Listen to yourself. You're a zealot, Callio.

CALLIO
And you're a fool! This world has no value other than that red stone, and its service to our mission. It will succeed, or our way of life will die.

AGATHA
What - what mission?



Though the Seekers have found no carmot in Bant or Grixis, the encounters with the bizarre, untamed denizens of those shards has only increased their devotion to their cause. Though many curse the name of Crucius the Mad—the brilliant sphinx whose gift of etherium gave rise to overzealous monstrosities like æther-liches—they're the ultimate soldiers for his cause. That Bolas co-opted their mission for his own purposes doesn't change their zeal.


Sharuum's chambers.

XORIN
You're proposing we do nothing?

TRAVIUS
Not nothing. Let the mission take its course. It's come at great cost.

SHARUUM
I see. Much etherium was spent...

TRAVIUS
But in the service of being able to create much more.

XORIN
Wait a minute. You're suggesting – the loss of Harborgate was planned?

TRAVIUS
Not Harborgate in particular. Even with the armillaries, we cannot predict which areas will remain part of Esper – and which will be lost to the other worlds. Dozens of the outlying towers are at risk at all times.

SHARUUM
So each is seeded with a Seeker.

TRAVIUS
Yes. Someone to ensure that disaster can be turned into opportunity.

XORIN (angry)
Twenty-seven, Seeker. Twenty-seven people are missing, presumed dead.

TRAVIUS
That is unfortunate. But it's miniscule compared to the losses we face if Esper runs out of etherium. Once our agent sends back a signal of her status, then we can direct her on her mission.

XORIN
Hegemon, surely you're not going to allow this?

The Hegemon SHARUUM crosses her enormous front paws. Her glance jumps from skylight to skylights in the ceiling, as if trying to catch the eye of another sphinx she once knew, high above. But he's gone. Her expression changes, and she faces the others again, her decision made.



Swept up in the fervor surrounding the Seekers of Carmot are thousands of civilians, some of whom feel little or no allegiance with the Seekers' cause—but who, as part of Esper culture, are inseparable from concerns over the plane's supply of etherium. For good or for ill, life on Esper means a life with etherium.


CALLIO is using a spell to integrate some of the salvaged etherium into the dead Bant aven. Its torso and part of its spinal column have been replaced with an elegant weave of etherium, which has been soaked in the aven's blood. AGATHA looks on in horror.

AGATHA
You – you endangered the lives of dozens of people. By not telling us. You endangered me!

CALLIO
The Conflux endangers us. The other worlds endanger us. Everyone in these outlying towers knew the risk. I merely prepared for the danger. Here - help me hold this thing's head.

AGATHA
I'm not helping you do anything.

CALLIO
You want to get home, don't you? You want to signal Esper that we're alive?

AGATHA
Not – not if it means this. Not if it means all these people die for your agenda.

AGATHA takes the crossbow and snaps a bolt into it, loading it in a flash. She points it at CALLIO.

CALLIO
This world has already sunk its claws into you, sister. Emotions cloud your vision.

AGATHA
My vision is finally clear.

CALLIO
You're not worth the etherium in your frame.

AGATHA fires. The bolt slams into CALLIO's chest. CALLIO gasps, grasping the end of the bolt, coughing blood. A few drowning breaths later, she dies.

AGATHA touches her sister's pale cheek. Then she takes a few short, bracing breaths and dives off the tower into Bant's sea. She swims toward the shore of Jhess, leaving her weapon behind.



Though it is rare, desertion has affected the populations of every shard of Alara. Where mana flows, so flows a stream of new experiences and perspectives. For a small handful of Alarans, this represents an opportunity for a fresh start—rather than cause for war.


SHARUUM's chambers, four days later. SHARUUM gives TRAVIUS another audience.

SHARUUM
I see the news in the patterns in your face. No word from Harborgate.

TRAVIUS
No, Hegemon. It's disappointing. Our success rate is low.

SHARUUM
But... this is the best way?

TRAVIUS
It's the only way.

SHARUUM nods, a bit sadly. Travius bows, and exits.


Letter of the Week


Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "The Vorthos Awards: Conflux Edition":

I am surprised at myself, but I have to reply to this article:

I don't care if Bolas rigged the primary or not--he shouldn't have got 'Vorthos' Award. If it were TIMMY-hell, yeah, he's the Timmiest thing I've ever seen! All that control, strategy and whatnot. But Vorthos? Conflux was about the 5 colors, about Alara being a kind of 'Magic Unleashed' (ala Maelstrom Archangel, or Child of Alara) - creating forces amalgamated from 5 colors and turning out more powerful than the most powerful anything that's ever been before.

Bolas is: 3 colors, not 5. A planewalker, not bound to Alara.

Yes - he's got STORY behind this, but for that matter, SO DOES PROGENITUS, plus Prog is more Vorthos-ly connected to Alara SPECIFICALLY, is ALREADY 5 colors of mana, and has an effect which interacts with all 5 colors as well: Protection from all 5 colors (and Artifacts from Esper) [and everything else - BWAHHAHAHA]

So basically, I think Prog is way more Vorthos-y than Bolas, b/c he FEELS 'Alara-y' whereas Bolas is just the popular poster-boy for the set, representing the same old 'omnipotent, omniscient' theme he did before. Nothing in Alara is about gaining all knowledge for power, except that Bolas has infiltrated Alara in every shard as part of his plan. But as far as the feel of what the set means for players, the kind of playstyles people will be attracted to, what Alara MEANS, I say Prog has Bolas beat on all counts.

In a contest, Prog beats Bolas like 9 times out of 10. (some people 'Ouphe' Bolas straight to 10, though, and then they can use his FINAL SMASH to take out 7 permanents--except that any fool would always sack 7 lands over 1 Prog.) Prog always wins. (against Bolas)

--matt

Thanks for your input, Matt! It'd definitely be interesting to see the two of them fight head-to-head in a Vorthos Award Final Battle.

I MEAN NEVERMIND BOLAS WOULD WIN HANDS DOWN

Sorry Master please don't wipe my brain

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