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Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Brothers' War - Chapter 12

The attack failed. What next for Mishra?

Chapter 12 - Phyrexia

Only one in five Fallaji warriors survived the Korlinda massacre. And while no one ever disagreed with the qadir to his face when he would say that everything that went wrong was Mishra's fault, in reality the Fallaji believed that Mishra was the reason as many of them got back alive and his popularity among the Fallaji grew.

But while his dragon engine was impressive, it was just one machine. The qadir said if his brother could have multiple machines, so should he, and so Mishra sent Fallaji to look for more. There were several potential sites that failed to bear fruit, and so Mishra took Ashnod in secret to return to Koilos. It takes a week to get there, with the last leg of the journey confined to the protection of the dragon engine while a wild dust storm keeps them cramped and confined.

"How can it see where it's going?" shouted Ashnod over the clatter of blowing sand.

"It does not need to see," replied Mishra. "It knows, as surely as I know, what direction it needs to go. It seeks out the Secret Heart of the Thran. I can feel Koilos's call, and because the machine responds to me, so can it feel the pull, like a raptor returning to the same nest with each passing season."

Ashnod isn't sure he if actually believes what he's saying or if he is just saying that he doesn't know in the most flowery way possible. She hopes they're not just moving blind. The storm finally passes before too long, and they arrive. The place is just as he remembered it, and Ashnod notices an unusual quiet about him.

The bad news is that nothing seems particularly useful. The spider-like machines are unusable thanks to the explosion his brother had caused when they first discovered the place. Mishra decides they should go into the cave. They travel down the corridor bringing some torches along with them. Mishra cracks open one of the su-chi skulls and is pleased to find a working power stone inside.

They arrive at a large chamber when Mishra places the stone in the machine in the center and the whole place lights up. There is a metal book with strange glyphs, and after taking some time to study it, Ashnod knows enough to know she can't make out much from the geometric symbols. She thinks maybe that one particular glyph stands for a doorway and Mishra tells her to push it.

A vertical golden disk appears and then expands to twice the size of a man. Ashnod touches her staff to it and finds there's no resistance. She also finds that the staff disappears into it and doesn't just poke out the other side. Perhaps it's a doorway after all. When she asks who goes in first, Mishra just looks at her and she knows the answer. She's the apprentice, not he.

On the other side is quite an unpleasant place of damp heat, as well as the smell of rot, oil, and chemicals. The world is dark and full of metal, so much so that even the insect she thought was a fly is actually made of silver wire and gold plates.

Mishra emerges from the door and says the place is just like he remembers it from his dream. It's called Phyrexia. The dark wind , also from his dream, told him so. And from his dreams a dark lake of oil should be right down... there.

By the lake are four more of the mak fawa, of different design and sizes than Mishra's original, but clearly of similar a style. Mishra tells Ashnod to have her staff ready while he goes down. He's going to try to control them. He cautiously walks down, and while they show some initial aggression, soon they're all under his command. He signals Ashnod to come meet him and says that he thought it would take his stone to control them, but they seem to be bound to him.

Then a gong sounds and the dragon engines are clearly nervous. The gong sounds twice more and the three largest dragons turn around and go into the lake. The smallest one is clearly torn between its fear of whatever is about to happen and its desire to obey Mishra's commands.

Part of the forest to their left disappeared, and a true giant lumbered forward. It was shaped like a land-going ship, set on treads, with a great maw set into its prow. Within the maw were spinning sets of teeth, like great scythes. They ripped through the plants and trees of the jungle with ease. When it struck a particularly large tree, the shattered bits of trunk made the booming, bell-like noise.

Standing atop the machine is the same metallic and leathery creature from his dreams. Mishra tells Ashnod to run and they head back towards the door. Ashnod is cut several times while running through the metallic brush and she watches as Mishra beats her to the doorway . She's pleased to see that he does actually take the time to wait for her to go through before escaping himself.

On the other side they try to close the door by pressing the glyphs but it doesn't work.  Mishra pulls the powerstone from the machine. He drops it, as it was hot from too small to properly power the door, and shatters as it hits the floor.

For the first time Ashnod considers that Mishra's mak fawa might have other masters that might not appreciate trespassers. She asks him if he knew who that was, and when he responds, she asks him to remind her to pay more attention to his dreams.

Mishra tells her they got what they came for and he tells her to follow him back outside. The earth shakes and one of the nearby structures collapses. The the head of a mak fawa breaks through the sand. One, two, three dragon engines dig themselves out from beneath the desert. Mishra says it's time to call for another conference.

...Inside the Cave of Koilos...

A golden disk appears in the cave, only a few inches wide and a leathery arm pokes through and swings around trying to grasp anything it can get hold of. Then the lights shut off and the arm is pulled back through before the portal closes.

The cave was still and silent, and remained so for a few more years.

* * *


Where Urza's reaction to the massacre was one of confusion, sadness, and paralysis, Mishra's reaction runs along similar lines as he always has. How can he be better than his brother. The big surprise for Urza was the attacks by both sides, but since Mishra was in on what was happening, the big surprise for him was simply the fact that his brother was still alive and at the meeting, and it was his brother's inventions that ruined his plans of total victory.

So where does that take us with Mishra... to quite unexpected places. We leave Dominaria and actually step foot on Phyrexia, like the title of the chapter clearly states. Mishra is having dreams that his brother is not, and we're shown that Mishra is actually gaining a psychic link to any dragon engine he comes in contact with. That's probably the most surprising thing of all.

From the cards, I always imagined this war being simply about Artificer vs Artificer. I don't know if this was always the plan as Wizards created the backstory for the cards, or if this was a change made as the novel was being planned out, but Mishra is really straying from the Artificer path.

Yes, he did help with the rebuilding of the original ornithopter, but Mishra ended up growing into more a man of the people, being the one to lead the digs and simply understand human nature. But he didn't build his dragon engine, and maybe he could have learned to build one, but we're told straight out that the qadir always keeps his people on the move and hasn't given Mishra any time to actually study it. Now that he has three more, we're shown that he didn't build these three either.


I'm actually a bit confused here. Fine, he's not an artificer like Urza is. That's a way to keep contrasting their differences. Sure, he has a mental connection to the dragon engines and can control them with mental commands. That's just an extension of his ability to understand living things. But where did these three dragon engines come from? Are these new dragon engines that popped out from the desert sands the same dragon engines that fled the gong and went down into the lake of oil? Or did going to Phyrexia just help Mishra really understand that connection he has to the machines, and when he set foot back on Dominaria he could sense different dragon engines under the sand that just coincidentally happen to be the same amount of dragon engines?

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