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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Alara Unbroken - Section 15

The taint of Grixis is everywhere and Ajani has an important decision to make.

Alara Unbroken - Section 15


Sarkhan rides the dragon Karrthus and decides it's time to let his dragons loose. He leads them down to a simple strafing run on the forest, and when he turns the dragons around to strike at the same spot again, he finds that some giant beasts have appeared and are stomping out the fires. That's unacceptable. They swoop down and unleash their fire upon the beasts, but one dragon flies too close to the beast with a fairly large horn and is impaled and tossed over into the trees. Sarkhan commands Karrthus to lift up one of the beasts into the sky, and then commands him to drop it back down from a lethal height while the other dragons are given free reign to attack in any way they like. When the battle is finished, he decides it time to strike at the elves.

The Maelstrom

At the heart of Alara, above a spiral-shaped depression in the crushed earth, floated a sphere of energy. It was much bigger than a grain of sand; it would be an armful to a human, if it were able to be held. Misty lines of color spiraled into it from all directions, and the colors churned inside of it. Slowly, day by day, battle by battle, spell by spell, it grew.


Ajani tries to get to know his new companions, but it soon becomes apparent to him that Kresh has no interest in getting closer on a personal level to what he views as his talisman. None of that really matters anyway, when they spot some undead. It's time to fight..

Esper Bant Frontier

Malfegor isn't too pleased with being ordered to Bant, but traveling through Esper has proved quite fruitful. With his powers of temptation and corruption, Espers forces are corrupted left and right to join his side. Drakes and sludge striders will be excellent shock troops, and the vedalken mages make excellent lich lords.

But this distraction will soon end and he'll be in Bant before he knows it. He remembers being there centuries ago, before Alara shattered. It was there that he fought and killed an archangel and it was there that he was the closest he had ever been to death.


Things aren't going too well for the husband and father Levac. He and his wife Salay have managed to make it to some run down shack, but their marriage is a bit on the rocks. Some bright blue glow can be see off in the distance, as if the sky is made up of more than a dingy overcast of clouds. Salay wants to make a break for it, but Levac keeps on saying they need to wait. The delays just don't make sense to her. They might actually find safety, and who knows... maybe even other humans. She tells him that if he's too afraid to go, she'll leave without him.

Levac wants to, but there's one thing holding him back. He hasn't had the heart to tell her that their son not only was turned to one of the undead, but that he saw him walking around not too far from where they are at the moment. He can't just leave his son behind, he has to try to save him.

(Huh? How do you save a zombie?)

They hear the sound of wings overhead and Levac is suddenly afraid that the kathari have found them. However through the gap in the roof he sees something else look down on them. Some kind of bird-man .


Kresh doesn't appreciate very much how these undead creatures won't just stay down. Over on Ajani's end of the battle, his weapon begins to glow white hot and the zombies crumple against his attack. Kresh tells him he likes how he fights and a new voice calls from within the woods and says the same. Rakka steps out and reveals herself.

Esper Grixis Frontier

Kaeda gives his report from his scouting mission into Grixis.

"It's... scabrous. The terrain looks like it's smelled for the last hour. There are hills of bone and flesh. The whole place is rotting in on itself."

(More on this later.)

The whole world seems like it's a mass grave and there is an army coming their way. An army of undead warriors lead by undead mages. Not only that, there are creatures that can only be described by the ancient word: demons. Rafiq tells them to back up, it's time to return to Bant, but then Kaeda adds one last thing. There is a nearby shack with some surviving humans who look like they need help.


Kresh wants his revenge against the shaman, but Ajani steps in and stops him. He needs Rakka alive to tell him about Nicol Bolas. As for Rakka, she's quite pleased that Ajani has already heard of her master and says she'll be happy to take him to see the dragon... if he kills Kresh and his warriors. Ajani's response it to threaten her with his axe blade against her neck.

(Didn't he just say he needs her alive? He's not very good at this.)

"Killing me won't get you to my master." Her voice went grave. "And believe me, I won't break from threat of pain, or by pain itself. I'll go insane first."

(Insane? Why? Is she saying that as fact or is she saying she'll accept torture until she loses her mind before betraying Nicol Bloas and/or giving up information she's trying to keep secret?)

She sees the debate going on in his mind. He can't betray his companions, but his drive to find her master is just as strong. She tells him he better decide soon. She may end up just killing herself at any moment. The voice of Jazal speaks up.

"Your vengeance, or your friends. What will it be?"

* * *

Awkward Negotiations

No wonder Ajani was never the leader type. All his time feeling isolated and alone hasn't really helped much when it comes to practical social skills. It's not all his fault, and practice makes perfect, but he needs to learn how to do this better.


That's a sad situation for Levac... but how is there even hope that he can find his son? We've been given no indication that it's possible, relying on general zombie knowledge doesn't help, and he hasn't been developed enough for us to know if this is just an irrational hope of  a father trying to cling on to hope for his son. It's a sad scene, but it loses much of its impact because it just doesn't quite add up.

Garden Path Sentences

I mentioned this in a couple of my Read Throughs, but as a writer you always want to avoid what's known as garden path sentences. For instance:

"The terrain looks like it's smelled for the last hour."

The big problem with this sentence is the nature of the word "smelled." To smell is a verb, but "It smelled" can use the word to be either a verb or a noun. As in, "It smelled" could be read as either "It performed the action of smelling" or "It has a scent about it that stinks, or in other words, it smells."

When reading this sentence, when you read the words, "The terrain looks like it has..." you expect the rest of the sentence to describe what the terrain has in terms of physical characteristics that have be navigated, such as "It looks like terrain has one clear path that we can take over land, the rest of it is too unstable," because typically terrain is to be traveled through. However when you read, "...smelled for the last hour," you run into the problem that the terrain is an inanimate object and cannot perform the verb "to smell."

However, that's not the only problem. You switch to the noun of the land having a bad scent for the past hour and you realize that doesn't make sense either. Hour has nothing to do with time, and rather it is an implied measure of the distance that Kaeda traveled on the scouting mission.

When you combine the two, only then can your  brain rewind and realize that what the sentence is trying to say is that "The terrain looks as bad as it smells, for the distance I was able to travel for an entire hour of flying," which really doesn't give much in terms of tactical information to the General. Why does it matter if the terrain smells? What matters is who is out there, if there are paths they can take if they need to travel through it, if there defensible positions should they be attacked, or other related characteristics.

Note: There's also a third problem in the change of tense between "looks" and "smelled". The sentence would have worked better by simply changing it to:

"The terrain looks like it smells for the last hour."

It would still be a bad sentence, but would have been improved. It's not as if the terrain has suddenly gotten a spring time fresh sent. Grixis smells as bad as ever.

Anyway, the act of needing to rewind and read the sentence over again, the act of backtracking and finding the right path to take to get through the sentence, is the key characteristic of what is called a garden path sentence. People don't like it. Some people won't even see the correct answer and be left confused, while for others it still interrupts the flow of the reading experience.

These kind of mistake can be hard to catch if you're the one double checking your own work because you know what you meant all along and will read the sentence the right way every time, not knowing there's a problem. That's just one more of many reasons why it's always good to have another pair of eyes checking your work, if you have that luxury.

And who knows. Maybe I'm just interpreting the sentence wrong even now after putting all this effort into breaking down what it's trying to tell me. It could be an obvious mistake that I'm not just seeing, or it could be due to other problems that I've not yet identified.

Another Option

Commenter Troacctid has a suggestion that I missed:

I read it as "The terrain looks like it's [been dead and rotting and starting to smell like a dead rotting thing] for the last hour." 

That is a possible option, although the sentence has some issues still if that's the case. I may not have made it too clear, but the location of that section is the Esper Grixis frontier. When it a group, it's not unheard of to comment on something that is obvious to everyone, for instance, "It's so hot today!" If Kaeda's sentence was meant like that, to speak the obvious that everyone else can see with their own eyes, it still has the problem if lacking in importance when it comes to a scout reporting to his commander. While they can all share a common disgust at this strange world, that doesn't really help Rafiq make any kind of tactical or strategic decision.


  1. I read it as "The terrain looks like it's [been dead and rotting and starting to smell like a dead rotting thing] for the last hour."

  2. That could very well be possible. But even that has issues with it. I'll add that to the post.

  3. Interesting history of this Levac, before I had read when the block was released some humans of Grixis went to the other fragments and were well received by other humans. Let's see how it goes, as are other human speech that I'd rather not think Levac and his wife are the only ones.
    Unlike Rafiq, Kresh liked, it shows that we should not rely only on cards for judging characters. The same goes for Sarkhan creature that looked more like a Red-Green-White than just a Red-Green barbarian. Too bad I already know he was barely tapped in the stories of magic. I also liked that aviano, Kaeda, more charismatic character that Rafiq.