Savor_the_Flavor

The Battle of Fort Keff

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The letter B!efore all else, Gideon Jura is warrior. His magecraft serves his blade, and his blade serves those in need.

Gideon is far from perfect. A troubled and angry young man, Gideon committed crimes and spent time in prison—a part of his life he rarely speaks about. Then a powerful mage took young Gideon under his wing and helped him hone his skills. Although he's has a dark side, Gideon has come down firmly on the side of honor and justice. He won't forget the trials of his past, and he now devotes himself to helping those who can't help themselves.


Gideon first appeared in The Purifying Fire, a planeswalker adventure by Laura Resnick, as a bounty hunter tracking Chandra Nalaar through the Multiverse. He caught up with her after she destroyed the Sanctum of Stars during her second attempt to steal a scroll on the plane of Kephalai. At the time, Gideon was working for the Order of Heliud, a religious organization, which eventually tried to kill Chandra. Gideon's faith in the order was tested, and he and Chandra parted on unfriendly terms.

After a short time, he regretted the way things had ended and decided to find her. Her æther trail was long cold, but he had some idea where she was going. The stolen scroll contained a partial map to the Eye of Ugin, an unknown treasure on Zendikar. And Gideon knew the tempting mystery would be too much for the tempestuous pyromancer. He'd traveled enough to know of Zendikar's dangerous reputation: a world that lured planeswalkers, then killed them in any number of gruesome ways.


Chandra wasn't a woman who would appreciate his protectiveness, but it wasn't in his nature to desert a friend, even if she was headstrong and difficult. By the time he reached Zendikar, Chandra was nowhere to be found. And Gideon's desire to protect innocents put him in harm's way as became embroiled in the carnage sweeping the countryside.


handra's trail dead-ended at a barren mountain pass in Akoum, and there was nothing else he could do. Gideon considered planeswalking from this violent world right then, but he was exhausted after tracking her for two days—and nearly dying on several occasions—and he wanted a good night's sleep, or as close as he could in the inhospitable world of Zendikar.


As the daylight faded, he backtracked down the trail to a high-walled encampment he'd passed earlier in the day. The soldier at the gate was reluctant to let him in after dark, but Gideon pointed out that a sliver of sun that still showed above the high cliffs surrounding the settlement. Finally, the grizzled soldier admitted him inside the walls with a gruff "Welcome to Fort Keff, the safest haven in Akoum."


Keff wasn't much to look at, but it was well protected. The rampart had been built at the mouth of a deep ravine so it was protected on three sides by rock. Inside the fort, most inhabitants lived in sturdy dwellings attached to the cliff-face. The explorers and trappers were welcome to pitch their tents under the overhanging rock, which protected them from sky predators. At the bottom of the ravine, there was a swift river that disappeared into a tunnel in the rock—a natural supply of water that was crucial to the longevity of the haven. After talking with the locals, Gideon learned that Keff supported a renowned school for healers, who tended herb gardens on the ledges overlooking the underground river. The population of the Fort was exceptionally young—many tribes sent their children to live in the relative safety of the fort.

After trading for a shank of fat-speckled gnarlid meat, Gideon settled near a scarred adventurer named Tafre who offered him a place at his fire. While they shared the food, Tafre proved himself to be a skilled storyteller, spinning unbelievable tales of his adventures as a trapfinder for the Akoum Expeditionary House.


"And then the rune on the keystone exploded. At least I got my head out of the way," Tafre said, chuckling. He removed his leather glove and showed Gideon the chunk of flesh missing from the middle of his palm.

"I don't think I've ever seen a hole through a man's hand before," Gideon told him. "At least, not a man who was still alive."

"Yeah, there was some enchantment on that trap. Mixed with the wound, I'd say," Tafre replied. "We got the amulet though. Damn trapmakers couldn't fool me."

Soon, the tone of the conversation changed. Tafre began telling Gideon the troubling stories that were being passed around the havens throughout Zendikar. Things had been strange a while. The land was more volatile than usual, which was saying a lot, considering how much the world already shifted. Gideon had already had a run-in with the Roil, barely escaping a colossal whirlwind that swept across the mountain pass as unexpected as a snowstorm in the desert.


"What is the cause of the change?" Gideon asked.

"Some think the land is angry," Tafre said hesitantly.

"And what do you think?" Gideon prompted.

Tafre was quiet for a long moment. Then he glanced around like a man who had something to hide. "You seem like a well-traveled man. You've seen strange things, I'm sure. So maybe you won't judge me if I sound slightly ... confused. I've explored much of this world, done things that gave nightmares more than once. But what I saw two days ago—"

Tafre paused, his skin pale and his hands trembling. Concerned, Gideon handed him a water flask. Tafre drank deeply and then continued his story.

"I don't often venture into the wilderness alone. It's better with mates, of course. But I know the mountains here. I was hunting boar in the jaddi grove just under Sawtooth Ridge. Suddenly the world turned black. Not like night had fallen, but like I'd been thrust into a coffin and left to die. Yet, I was awake. I admit that I panicked. Running blind was damn foolish, and I smacked into something hard. And then I remember nothing ... until I awoke in a field of flesh."

Gideon tipped his head in surprise. "Flesh? As in skin?"

Tafre sipped the flask again. "I know it sounds impossible, but the grove had become an expanse of fleshy meat and bone, all mixed with this yellow dust that burned my nose and eyes. Dust that cast the horizon in a saffron glow. Clumps of blood and hair clung to my clothes, but I wasn't wounded. I had to wade through the knee-high carnage until I reached the ridge. Scrambling up, I saw that the world on the other side was still a pristine wilderness. But what lay behind me was unimaginable ... a thing of madness."

Gideon considered his tale. "Not an illusion, I suppose."

Tafre shook his head miserably. "I can still taste the blood. The dust has seeped into my skin. I can't stop wondering whose flesh it had once been."


That night, Gideon dreamed of Chandra engulfed in white flame. She was screaming. No, he realized, the screaming was outside his dream—an animalistic cry of fear and pain. Gideon was on his feet before he was fully awake. It was still night, but people were crowded along the edge of the ravine watching an injured creature lumber along the riverbank. It was a large, bulky humanoid with a prominent brow and muscular, stooping shoulders. Its characteristics were vaguely aquatic, although it wasn't like the merfolk Gideon had encountered on Zendikar. Beating it with cudgels until it collapsed, the soldiers threw a weighted net over it as it screeched in an unfamiliar tongue.

"Have you seen creatures like this before?" Gideon asked Tafre, who had appeared at his shoulder.

"It's a surrakar," Tafre answered. "Its kind lives mostly in Bala Ged, far from here. I can't imagine how it washed up in Keff."

"Is it intelligent?" Gideon asked as he watched the soldiers drag the subdued surrakar to a wooden cage near the front gate and roughly shove it inside.

"Nah, they're just beasts," Tafre said.


Gideon waited until the crowd dispersed and he was standing alone with the surrakar. Its breathing was shallow and labored, and it stared up at him with small black eyes. But there was emotion and intelligence in those dark pupils, and Gideon immediately felt pity for the creature whose only crime seemed to be surfacing the wrong place at the wrong time.

Gideon had just turned to leave, when the creature's clawed hand reached through the bars and gripped Gideon's arm tightly.

"The gods are coming," it hissed. "Kill me now."

Gideon had no doubt that Keff's captain of the guard was an honest man who took his duties seriously. Still, Gideon had managed to get on the man's bad side, despite his best efforts to be diplomatic in a situation that was rapidly deteriorating. Refugees had been arriving at the already-crowded haven all morning. Then, at midday, a large group of women and children arrived at the gate—many of them injured and all of them terrified. They had fled from village while their warriors died battling something they called "demon insects." None of them seemed in their right mind, which the captain attributed to fear, but which Gideon suspected was something far more insidious.

At least that's was he was trying to tell the captain, who refused to listen to Gideon and his tales about the "talking surrakar."

Gideon cursed the captain's provincial mind. It wasn't the man's fault, of course. But Gideon couldn't frankly explain why the surrakar's information was so crucial. He'd spent hours attempting to converse with the creature. From what he could glean from its rudimentary speech, the "gods" it once revered were from the beyond the world. They had been ripped from a void without color, without time, and without boundaries. And unless they were stopped, the gods would "chew off the meat and spit out the bones" of all existence. That seemed to be a rough translation, but Gideon got the gist.

And only a planeswalker like Gideon truly knew what that meant.

"I've got children coming out of my ears," the captain fumed. "No spare food to speak of. Only a handful of able-bodied men. And demonic insects coming down the hills that intend to slaughter us all. And you want me to talk to a fish man? If you don't move, you'll be sharing the cage with him!"

"Sir," said Gideon, "I doubt they are demonic insects—"

The red-faced captain held up a hand in warning. Gideon sighed. "If you won't listen to me, at least let me help. I've been around battlefields more than once."

The captain gave him a tired smile. "Now we're speaking the same language."


The attack began with yellow dust. The sickly cloud swept across the haven just as the work crew finished the reinforcements on the inner wall. Gideon was in the guard tower when it engulfed him. He sprawled on platform, and covered his face with his arm. He struggled to breathe in the gritty air, the acrid taste of blood flooding his mouth just as Tafre had described. An unpleasant memory of burning bodies filled Gideon's mind. The dust was like the ash from a still-burning pyre.

When the worst had past, Gideon struggled to his feet and saw that enemy was already at the gates.

Scores of creatures swarmed below the wall. Some walked on two legs while dragging claw-like appendages along the ground. Others scurried on all fours, with multiple limbs and tentacles branching out from random sections of their membranous bodies. The strange creatures emitted disturbing, hollow wails that tested Gideon's steadfast resolve. The creatures seemed partially decayed, their flesh segmented in an asymmetrical latticework. Pastel hues shone dimly from inside their bodies, the soft color a mockery of their horrific nature.


They crashed into the rampart, which swayed under Gideon's boots. The archers on the platform regained their senses, and fired volley after volley. But the arrows slid into the creatures as a knife into soft butter and did nothing to slow the assault. Unless Gideon took action, Fort Keff would be lost. From his belt, Gideon removed his sural, a whip-like, multi-bladed weapon. He steadied his mind until his fear dispersed and his mentor's teachings flooded his mind. Then he jumped into the fray.

"I am the center," he thought, willing mana to be like shards of glass in his veins. It was as his teacher said: Power and sacrifice can only exist together, like an eye and the sense of sight. "The light surrounds my foes, and they are blind to all but me. If any heart will be stilled, it will be mine."

When water is tipped into a funnel, it churns an inevitable course around the axis. So it was with Gideon as the creatures turned their attention to him alone. Gideon's magecraft chimed loudly in his mind—a necessary distraction from their netherworldly cries, the blows that found his unprotected skin, and any emotion that might distract him. He coiled the metal strands of his weapon so rapidly that the air itself became like a blade. Pain, he thought. I feel it, but it does not break me. Death. If it comes now, so be it.


The shouts of the soldiers on the wall broke through his consciousness as the pile of rosy, seeping flesh grew around him. Soon the sural was still, and Gideon stood on bruised and shaking legs. Battered, but alive.

So goes the teaching, he reminded himself yet again: Pain is welcome. Death is inevitable. Honor is the only legacy a man should crave.

A cheer rose up from inside the fort. A rope ladder was tossed from above, and the thankful inhabitants helped Gideon back onto the platform. Fort Keff had been saved.

And then it appeared on the horizon.


Once, Gideon had demanded that his teacher tell him more. More about the Blind Eternities. More about other planes. More about everything. His teacher laughed: "No man can ever grasp everything he does not know."

Here on the horizon was everything Gideon did not know. Mind-numbing, phantasmal, 150 feet tall ... a thing of madness. It hovered above the earth, its tentacles draped across a landscape blasted into a barren crater by its passing. In the distance, Gideon could see a ripple in the air around it, like shockwaves of energy vibrating out from its core. The mountains crumbled like sand. The red drained from the rocks, the blue faded from the sky. Life became a void.

With a shudder of resignation, Gideon knew could not defeat this force. The most powerful mage would simply be ash on the wind. As he bore witness to the "god," he had no doubt what the surrakar had told him was true. This was the chaos of the Blind Eternities made corporeal.

Beside him, the captain of the guard fell to his knees and began keening softly. Gideon jerked him to his feet and forcibly turned him away from the sight from the colossal creature looming in the distance.

"Release the surrakar. He'll lead you out along the underground river. Take everyone and flee!"

"But where should we go?" The man cried.

"As far away as you can," Gideon answered. "I'm going for help."

From the top of the wall, Gideon waited until the last of the survivors were out of sight. For an instant, he watched it drift lazily across the horizon—obliterating everything in its wake. It mercilessly rendered all life to grit and dust. There seemed to be no purpose behind its actions. It was relentless, mindless, and seemingly unstoppable.


Gideon knew it would take many of his kind to thwart this menace. He'd heard of an organization that operated between planes. An organization of planeswalkers. He would travel to Ravnica and find them. Hopefully there would be something left of Zendikar when they got back. Gideon whispered a vow to return and planeswalked away.





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