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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum - Chapter 16

Nissa just destroyed the igneous glen that everyone within Goma Fada seemed to taken a religious blessing for their travels and she had to be tackled to the ground by the guards. Oh what will ever happen to her now?

Next to nothing?

That sounds about right for Wintermute.

Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum - Chapter 16

The guards grab hold of Nissa and drag her beyond the perimeter of the city, one of them spits at her, then they walk away. Sorin wonders how far it is to complete the trek across the desert, and Mudheel says four days. But with only three half full skins of water, their situation is pretty grim.

After the first day they moved only at night. During the day they slept face down with their cloaks and hoods wrapped around their bodies, so that anybody who saw them lined up on the wastes would think they were a line of corpses shrouded for the grave.

By the end of the second day their water skins were empty, and they threw them away. They rose at dusk on the third day and stumbled toward the high mountains.

(Don't throw those away!)

Our heroes are running out of energy and time. Every step is a struggle. Their bodies scream for water, but all they have is sun and heat and desert air. The first time Nissa falls, Mudheel helps her back up. The second time she doesn't even remember falling. The mountains are so close...  yet still too far.

Then a figure appears walking out of the brilliance of the sun shining directly into Nissa's face. He helps her up and walks her over to his two pack beasts, dips a cup into one of the earthen jugs they carry, and hands her a cup of water. It smells of sulfer, but it's still the best water she's ever tasted. He hands her another cup and she drinks that down too, and then he proceeds to walk over to each of Nissa's fallen companions and does the same for them.

Nissa tells him that they can't repay him for saving their lives, and asks him where he's headed. He nods and points to the mountains, the same direction they're going, and she realizes that the reason he isn't speaking is because his tongue has been cut out.

They continue to travel in his company and finally make it out of the desert and into the foothills. Their guide gets excited as they run into a floating pond, and he begins refilling the jugs strapped to his pack animals.

Nissa notices tracks of all kinds in the ground beneath their feet, and Sorin voices concern that a good source of water in a place such as this is a dangerous place to be. It's not safe. With that in mind, Sorin calls out to Anowon, and tells him that he should just get about his business and then they'll move on.

Nissa is horrified as Anowon walks up to their guide and pulls down his hood. She lunges and knocks him off balance with her staff before he can bite into their guide, but when she attacks again, a simple handful of sand to her face catches her off guard, and by the time she's recovered it's too late.

After he's had his fill, Anowon tells her that the next time she does that, it won't go so well for her. She points to Smara and demands why he couldn't have drained her instead, and his reply is that she repulses him. There no changing thing now though, so they move on, taking the pack animals with them.

(I bet Mudheel didn't like the sound of her offering up his wife.)

As they travel the terrain gets rougher and rougher. And there's a sense of being watched that grows every stronger. Criss-crossing across their path are disturbing tracks that clearly show every single bone in the the creature's foot. Nissa watches as Anowon begins sniffing at the air at every turn, and watches as he becomes more and more paranoid. Sorin makes an offhand comment about the skills of a vampire when it comes to tracking and she's not sure if he means they're in good hands with Anowon or if there are vampires out there that are tracking them. The group begins taking cautious steps around every bend, and avoiding every possible ambush location if at all possible, which means leaving behind the pack animals and their water.

Around dusk, they crest a hill and Anowon suddenly stops. There's a strange statue across their path. Anowon tells Nissa that it moved.

Nissa looked back at the strange statue. It did have a face of sorts: its nose was a hole, as were its eyes and mouth. She noticed that rock cairns were piled up on either side of it. She watched the statue for long enough that her knees started to sting as she squatted in the loose rock. She was just about to stand when the statue moved.

They have the option of traveling through the teetering peaks where there would be ambush locations at every step of the way, scattered with razor crystals all along the ground limiting their range of movement, or they can take the path that takes them past the statue that is not a statue. Perhaps they've been funneled to this location to be forced to make this choice. When weighing constant threat of ambush versus a path that one just one point of potential danger, the statue seems like the better choice.

As they near it, Anowon recognizes Eldrazi script on its forehead. It's Third-reign Eldrazi. He tells Nissa the word can be translated to "mover."

They stood staring at the statue. A rock tumbled ahead. "I have the strangest feeling," Anowon said, stepping away from the strange statue. "That something moves ever closer."

* * *

Start at the Beginning

Something I didn't mention in the previous chapter is that while I enjoyed time they took staying with the City That Walks, I didn't really understand why they were taking their time. At best I figured that the city must be moving in the direction they wanted to travel. It didn't hit me that despite their need for water, that the conditions of the environment were so bad that simply could not get to the Teeth of Akoum without supplies. Why should that ever come into my mind? They never seemed worried about a lack of supplies, so this chapter presents to us the problems of the desert that our heroes could easily have seen coming since both Mudheel and Anowon have knowledge about their journey, yet the problems were never telegraphed at all until they were already stuck in a terrible situation.

And since those problems were never telegraphed, the punishment of being kicked out of the city seemed like a simple slap on the wrist compared to how reverently everyone seemed to treat the igneous glen. Instead it turned out to be a death sentence, but that wasn't made clear until after the fact. The scene could have seriously used someone stating out the severity of their punishment rather than someone just spitting at them.

And Still It Was Good

With all that said, this is a second chapter in a row that was actually pretty good. Certainly there was  lot of tension throughout the entire chapter. The conditions and desperation as they were running out of water was pretty well conveyed.

And finally Nissa tries to stick up for one of Anowon's victims. She's presented with the same moral choice that she's been ignoring, and finally she chooses the "right" path and tries to save the live of the man who saved theirs.

What's odd is how quickly she was to offer up Smara who's been traveling with them for so long. Sure she's channeling a ghost of an Eldrazi, but that never seemed to be a concern for them before. And considering how personally she's getting to know Mudheel to the point that he has a name now and has shared parts of his personal life with her, it's odd that she'd just offer up Mudheel's wife as vampire food.

As for the statue, this is an interesting choice they have to make. I just fear that it will be disappointing again, much like the invisible presence from before that was simply left behind and never touched upon again because Eldrazi spawn showed up and they just ran from the location.

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