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The Brothers' War - Magic: The Gathering

The Brothers' War - Magic: The Gathering

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Published by Selenia du Crovax
First Book of the Artifact Cycle, Magic: The Gathering universe. Author: Jeff Grubb.
First Book of the Artifact Cycle, Magic: The Gathering universe. Author: Jeff Grubb.

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Published by: Selenia du Crovax on Jan 15, 2009
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10/04/2015

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SYLEX

The ivory towers were burning.
The invaders had first swarmed from the desert more
than a year ago and almost overpowered the defenders in
the first wave before the gates were closed and the great
metal bolts of the portcullises secured. There were
thousands of them: grim-faced desert warriors and mindless
machines, spilling from the east like hungry insects. They
looted the surrounding land, and what they could not carry
they burned. They were at the gates of Terisia City within
days.

They failed to take the city. The gates were shut in
their face, and Mishra's army was turned back. The next
spring they returned with a contingent of siege equipment,
battering rams, and dragon engines.
Then began the siege, a slow and torturous process that
wracked the city and its people. The towers proved their
worth, for the enemy could not get close to the walls
without suffering withering fire from the spires. Each tower
was in turn protected by the city walls behind it and by the
adjacent towers. The entire city was wrapped in a cocoon
of stone and protected by a bristling array of ballistas,
archers, and grapeshot catapults.
A flying dragon engine made an attempt to burn the
city to the ground, but as it flew overhead it disintegrated
from the firepower and shot brought to bear against it.

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435

There was no second attempt by Mishra's forces to fly over
Terisia City.

Through it all there had been no clue as to the reason
for the attack. The city had attempted to parley with the
invaders, but any attempt to reason with them was met
with arrowshot and swords.
The intervening winter bought the city time, and the
leaders used that time to fill the city granaries, remove its
innocents, and strengthen its defenses. The Union used the
interval to press forward with its studies.
It had been enough, for the siege stretched into months
without a sign of either side breaking. The scholars in their
ivory towers had kept one of the two most powerful armies
on the continent at bay while they continued their own
work, as they attempted to discover all the secrets of the
third path, the path that was neither Mishra nor Urza.
That path was charted by Hurkyl's meditative
techniques, as Feldon had predicted. The key lay in
concentrating on the memories of one's homeland and
pulling forth the unknown energies from those memories
and that land. Hurkyl discovered the energy, but the archi-
mandrite named it, calling it mana. Loran thought at the
time the name was misleading, smacking as it did of old
Fallaji tales of wizards and not of science. But despite the
name, the archimandrite had succeeding in researching
and refining this mana, had distilled it down to its base
elements. And she turned those base elements into a
weapon against the desert warriors.
But now Hurkyl was dead, the archimandrite was
missing, and the city of the towers had been betrayed and
occupied by the Fallaji. The ivory towers were isolated,
surrounded within and without, and one by one they began
to fall under Mishra's concentrated assault.
The Archimandrite's Tower, one of the few that
survived intact, was in disarray. In the center of the

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436

Archimandrite's Hall, Drafna bellowed at the Sumifan
guards, shouting final orders for a sortie. His balding pate
was barely visible over the shoulders of the gathered guards,
but Loran knew the scholar's shout anywhere.
Drafna stood up on a chair to be better heard, and
Loran saw the wildness in his eyes, the manic intensity that
seemed to grip the scholar like a fever since Hurkyl had
perished. The passage of time had not weakened that fire.
He had been there when his wife had died at the gates of
the city, when the Gixians had betrayed them.
They had all seen the dangers without but had ignored
the rot within. The other scholars had paid scant heed to
the machine-worshiping priests as they moved among
them, saying little but listening a great deal. The Gixians
had learned much in Terisia City, and the scholars often
treated them as a harmless, if backward people. When the
priests of the brotherhood felt they finally knew enough,
they betrayed the scholars and opened the city gates to the
enemy.

Hurkyl, ever-attentive, figured out what was happening
and convinced Drafna to rally those guardsmen who
remained loyal. Drafna's forces tried to press back the
Fallaji assault and close the gates before the enemy could
enter the city proper. But Mishra's troops were ready for
the assault and had a trio of dragon engines ready to
capitalize on the treachery.
Drafna's forces were scattered at the gates, and the
dragon engines began to roll forward. That was when
Hurkyl revealed to the enemy the greater power the Union
had gained through her studies.
Loran had watched from the closest of the towers
during the assault, trying to bring the catapults the bear
against the advancing dragon engines without harming the
loyal garrisons. Hurkyl stood at the city gate, and for a brief
moment she was alone before the three dragon engines.

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437

She looked like a frail doll, dressed in azure, her thick black
hair flying like a pennant behind her. She closed her eyes
and silently raised her arms, and around her the world
began to change.

A glow enveloped her, a sapphire hue as blue as the seas
around the island of Lat-Nam. It radiated outward, casting
a new set of shadows against the ground. The human troops
wavered under the light, and the dragon engines …
... disappeared. They were not destroyed, nor did they
simply fail or retreat. Instead they slowly faded from view.
The surroundings became clearer and clearer until the
engines seemed to be no more than colored fog.
Then they were gone, gone through the actions of one

woman.

Hurkyl staggered from the force of her mystic work, and
Mishra's human forces took advantage of her weakness to
press forward. Her sapphire-blue glow was dimmed, then
extinguished entirely beneath a wave of spearmen. Hurkyl
had defeated the artifacts but not the warriors who
accompanied them.
Loran saw Drafna trying to lead a charge to where his
wife had disappeared beneath the spearmen, trying to hack
his way through the enemy to reach her, but it was too late.
The bald-headed scholar was driven back to another tower,
and the city itself fell to Mishra's forces.
The city was sacked and burned, its surviving populace
butchered, and its glass roofs smashed so that not a single
pane remained whole. The scholars in the towers collapsed
their tunnels back into the city itself, sealed their windows
against the smoke and the cries of the martyred, and
prepared for the worst. First one, then a second, then a
third of the ivory towers fell to the invaders, who moved in
a circle around the city itself like an apocalyptic clock.
There would be no salvation from the Fallaji, no last-
minute rescue. Loran had received correspondence from a

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438

friend still in Argive, months out of date but speaking of a
rebellion among the dwarves of the Sardia mountains. Urza
would have his own hands full, Loran realized, and there
was no one else to oppose Mishra in the west.
Nature brought a brief respite. A sandstorm blew up out
of the desert to the east, carrying a heavy, thick load of
dust that reduced visibility and halted Mishra's army
entirely. Many of the scholars used the storm as cover to
escape from the city itself, taking with them what they had
learned about the new teachings. Some said the archi-
mandrite had fled, though others said she had been
captured by Mishra, and still others said the sandstorm was
her doing, as the banishing of the dragon engines had been
Hurkyl's.

Yet the storm would not last forever, and with its
passing the ivory towers would again begin to fall, one after
another. Those scholars who had survived were preparing
to abandon the city entirely now. The land beneath the
towers was honeycombed with tunnels, and enough
survived to allow a safe escape to the hinterlands.
Drafna bellowed another set of orders at the Sumifan
guards and servants, who moved with the calm, relaxed
demeanor with which Sumifans did all things. Loran
looked around but did not see Feldon. She had been sure
he would make it to this tower, if he could.
She found him in his study, staring at the Golgothian
Sylex. He looked up briefly from the copperish bowl as she
entered and sighed. "Fill it full of memories, and start over
again," he said. "Scrape it all clean, like a glacier."
"If what it says is true," said Loran. "However, I think it
would be as dangerous to the user as to its target."
Feldon grunted and rose. "I agree. Drafna ordered me to
fetch every bit of artifice in the tower. He intends to lead a
sortie with the surviving guards, to fight his way all the way
back to Lat-Nam if he has to. He's in a fey mood, that one.

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439

I think he'd be more happy if he died than if he made it
out. Anyway I sent everything else down but this...." His
voice died as he stroked the side of the sylex.
"Do you think it will work?" asked Loran. "That it will
end everything, as it claims?"
Feldon looked at her. "Do you want to find out?" he

asked.

Loran looked at the bowl for a long moment, her

thoughts racing.

Then she shook her head. "There's too much we don't

know about this."

Feldon nodded. "Agreed. But if we do not use
something like this, what should we do with it?"
"We should destroy it," said Loran.
"I don't know if we can," said Feldon. "It's been beneath
the sea for who knows how long, and it has resisted every
attempt to take a sliver of metal from its side. Perhaps
Hurkyl could have done something to it with her mana…
." Again he let his voice die. He looked at the bowl for a
long time. "I don't want to give it to Drafna," he said.
"Are you afraid he'd lose it?" asked Loran.
"I'm afraid he'll use it," corrected Feldon. "Since Hurkyl
died, he's been, well, strange. I don't think he really cares if
the rest of the world survives or not."
"His world died with his wife," Loran said, and Feldon
nodded in agreement. "So take it with you yourself. We
have to leave soon."
"With my game leg I won't get far," said Feldon. He
tapped his cane against his twisted limb for effect. "I'm
going to try to get out, but I think I'd better be traveling
light."

There was a pause, and Loran said, "You want me to
take it. That's where this is going."
Feldon gave a bearlike shrug. "You're leaving as well,
either by the tunnels or with Drafna's charge."

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440

"By the tunnels," said Loran. "And you're coming with

me."

"Too old, too lame," he said. "You'd make better time
without me. And there's better chance of the knowledge
surviving if we split up. There's a small town at the foot of
the Ronom Glacier, called Ketha. I'll meet you there
within the year if I survive. But, yes, you should take it."
Loran pursed her lips. "Why me?"
"Have you been able to use the meditative techniques?"
asked Feldon. "Have you been able to pull the mana from
the land?"

Loran held up her hands. "I don't believe that this is
magic of any type. It's merely science that we have yet to
understand."

Feldon leaned against his chair. "The answer would
then be, no you have not."
Loran looked at Feldon, then at the bowl. He was right.
She had not been able to master the techniques, either
because her own memories of home were too faded or her
home was too remote. Or the land was no longer as she
remembered it. She considered that option as well and
wondered if that was part of the "science" of this new and
untried field. At last she shook her head.
"That's why you should take it," said Feldon. "I've had
small success myself, though I think of the mountains and
ice when I do it. Everyone seems to be different and can
manifest slightly different effects. Yet you have not, and
that is why you should take it."
"Because if something bad happens, I will not be able to
use it in a moment of weakness," said Loran flatly.
Feldon looked at the woman and let out a deep, heavy,

sigh.

Loran took the bowl. The feeling of shadow descended
upon her as she grasped it, and she almost let it go. Instead

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441

she hefted it, looked at Feldon, and said, "Do you have a
bag for this?"

Feldon produced a battered backpack, one of his own
from his glacier-exploring days, and Loran slid the bowl
into it. It was heavy, but its weight was minor compared to
the aura of dread that surrounded it.
Loran and Feldon made their good-byes, and she
hugged him. When they parted there were tears in her
eyes. "Come with me," she urged.
"We'll scatter like geese," said Feldon "They can shoot
only so many of us."
"Small comfort if you're one of the geese that's shot,"
said Loran. "Look after yourself."
"You as well," said Feldon. Then she was gone.
Feldon packed the last of his own belongings in a
second backpack, pausing as he heard Drafna bellowing
orders, readying the surviving troops for their assault. By
now Loran would be in the tunnels, hopefully still free of
Mishra's forces and the hated Gixians.
Feldon hoisted his pack and shook it, trying to move
the heavier items to the bottom. Below he heard the great
doors of the tower swing open and the cries of the men and
women who were going to fight their way past Mishra's
army. At least, he thought wryly, that's what they hoped.
Feldon counted to a hundred just to assure himself they
would be gone, then counted to a hundred a second time.
Then, gripping his walking cane securely in one hand, he
began to hobble his way down to the tunnels. As he limped
along, he mumbled prayers: for himself, for the rest of the
surviving scholars, for Drafna, for the archimandrite, and
for Loran. Particularly for Loran.

* * * * *

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442

A month later, Loran lay dying, her right side smashed
and twisted by the rockfall. A few feet away from her, the
sylex had spilled out of its backpack and lay glimmering
among the rubble.
She had made it to the foothills of the Colekgan
Mountains before disaster struck. The surviving populace
had flowed through Mishra's lines like water through a
steel sieve, spilling in all directions, seeking escape to every
cardinal point save east. Loran had joined a group of
Yumok nationals who wanted no more than to quit these
supposedly civilized lands and return to their upland
homes.

They were moving through the first passes when the
avalanche hit. It struck without warning, One moment a
caravan of refugees wound its way among the cliffs, the
next there was thunder from a clear blue sky and a rain of
stone and soil as the path disappeared. Loran heard screams
and shouts around her, but they were soon lost in a torrent
of rock.

Not after all this, she remembered thinking. She made
a silent, impassioned plea to gods long-ignored. She
remembered thinking as well this was no accident.
She had been right. Now that the dust had settled,
figures moved among the debris.
At first she thought they were other refugees who had
survived the rockslide and were searching for survivors. She
tried to raise an arm to call them and realized she could not
move her right arm. Her entire side was a thick smear of
blood along her travel cape, and it hurt to move her head
to look at it.

Suddenly she realized the figures were not Yumoks.
They were dressed entirely in spiked armor with heavy,
flowing capes. They moved among the debris, poking at
bodies nonchalantly with their swords.

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443

They were looters. They had set the avalanche, she
realized. They had brought the mountain down on the
caravan to scavenge the bodies.
She must had shuddered or spasmed in pain at the
thought, for a voice over her right shoulder called, "We've
got a survivor!" The voice was muffled behind steel but
fairly close.

"Good," responded another voice, this one female and
unmuffled. "I was afraid that you did your job too
effectively, Captain."
Loran tried to turn herself about to see who was talking,
but she could only twitch. Heavy, gauntleted hands laid on
her shoulder, and she felt pain radiate from her wounds. A
face hove into view, hidden behind a thick metal visor. It
looked like one of Urza's automatons, save for the fact that
there were human eyes behind the eyeholes.
They were not particularly warm or comforting, but

they were human.
"Alive or dead?" asked the female voice.
"Alive, but not by much," said the man behind the
visor. His breathing was as sharp as her own, and Loran
realized what was in those eyes. Pain. There was pain in the
soldier's eyes.

"We don't need by much," said the woman. The
armored figure stepped aside for a moment, and Loran saw
the woman. She was dressed in similar, spiked armor, but
lacked a helmet. Loran could see thick red curls spilling
onto her shoulder plates. "We just need a little
information," the woman continued coldly, "and then she
can die like the others." There was no pain in this red-
haired woman's eyes. Only power.
"Milady, look at this," said the soldier, coming back
into view. He was carrying the bowl-shaped sylex.
Loran must have tried to move, twisted in place, tried
to say something. All she knew was that a moment later

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444

she was in intense pain, pain that seared through her like a
blade. When her senses cleared again, she saw the red-
haired leader turning the sylex over in her hands.
Ashnod, she realized, and wondered if her lips formed
the words as she said them. But word was that Ashnod had
been cast out from Mishra's camp. What was she doing
here, with her own soldiers, then?
"Interesting," said Ashnod, running her slender fingers
along the inside of the bowl, tracing the script within as it
spiraled to the base. "Most interesting. And I think our
little friend knows about it. You're no Yumok, nor a Fallaji.
Some scholar from the east, perhaps?"
Loran said nothing and wondered if she would be able
to die before anything else horrible happened to her. The
stories of Ashnod's cruelty were legendary.
The red-haired woman seemed to read her mind, for she
said, "We're going to have to nurse this one back to health,
Captain. And then she has much that she's going to tell us.
I'm sure of that."

Loran willed herself to die, but her only reward was
Ashnod's laughter.

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445

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