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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Brothers' War - Chapter 2

Life in the dessert for Urza and Mishra. (And oh yeah, the fight that happened on the first day started because Mishra accidentally sat on someone else's bunk.)

Chapter 2 - Ornithopter

Tocasia did not send the boys back with Bly that trip, or for any other trip to Penregon for the next six summers. Urza came to terms with Richlau, and Mishra was more careful about sitting on others' bunks. Loran went back to Penregon and stayed away for five years. Bly wore out the new oxen and tried to buy one of Tocasia's onulets, to no avail. Tocasia continued to dig and to bring up the two boys put into her care.

At first Tocasia thought of Urza and Mishra as two parts of a single entity. Her inclination was reinforced by the way the two looked at each other before answering a question. Yet they were very different people, and the desert brought out different parts of their personalities.

(More on this later.)

Urza loved to delve every note and piece of information he could get his hands on. He loved learning how about things work so much that Tocasia had to threaten him to stop taking apart her onulets. The fact that he and Mishra rebuilt the whole thing while improving upon its design was besides the point. Permission is required for that sort of thing.

Mishra on the other hand loved being out in the field and made fast friends with the Fallaji diggers and the other students. He loved listening to stories and no doubt drank nabiz with the workers, but he also had a focused mind when it came to recovering artifacts and had a natural talent for recognizing good dig sites and correctly estimating how deep they would need to go before finding something.

Urza grew lean and wiry and his hair bleached to a straw-colored blond, while Mishra grew broad in the shoulder and became quite tanned because of his field work. Within two years they created a strong enough presence about them that they were considered essential parts of the camp. Within another two they were the leaders of the students which allowed for Tocasia to spent time on other matters.

In the second year, Bly returned with news that the boys' father was dead. When she told Urza, he paused for a moment, rubbed his eyes, and thanked Tocasia for delivering the news before getting back to work. Mishra on the other hand fled to be alone atop a rocky hill. Later that day she saw Urza climb up there and sit beside his brother for several hours before they both came back down, never to speak of the incident again as far as Tocasia knew.

Six years after their arrival, Loran returned officially as a representative of her family's interest in the dig site, but she really just wanted to see her former master. And Tocasia herself was quite pleased to be able to show her an impressive find. The month before her arrival a sudden downpour had uncovered something out in the desert. When she and the brothers had a look they found what looked like a sail, however within a few minutes of examination Urza confidently stated it was a flying device, of the kind only heard of in stories. It was eventually dug up and hauled back to camp and it was officially dubbed an ornithopter .

By some unspoken agreement the brothers tackled different parts of its repair, and when one got stuck somewhere, the other took over. Loran herself spent her time hovering over Urza for a bit while he worked and then with no sign or reason that Tocasia could figure out, her interest switched over to Mishra for an equal amount of time before she finally had to return home.

Finally the day arrives for the test flight, which happens to be the final day of the year. At this milestone moment, some contention arises. Urza and Mishra have to decide between the two who will have the honor of first flight.

"I should do it," said Urza. "after all, I understand the workings of the power crystal cradle."

"I should do it," countered Mishra. "The flight levers controlling the wings are mulish, and they need a strong hand to keep them in line."

"I'm lighter," said Urza.

"I'm stronger," snapped Mishra.

"I am capable of holding the levers in place," said Urza.

"And I understand the power crystals as well as you do," added Mishra quickly.

"I am the elder," said Urza smugly.

"And it's my birthday!" shouted Mishra, the blood rising to his face. "So we are equal."

It wasn't until Tocasia threatened that she would risk her old bones if they couldn't make a decision that each immediately gave up their claim to pilot the device and instead said the other brother should do it. In the end they flipped a coin and Urza won.

Urza takes hold of the controls, and after a few struggling hops and flaps of the ornithopter's wings, he takes off. Urza locks the wings in place and spends ten minutes in the air circling the camp twice while everyone looks on. Mishra can't wait for his turn after Urza lands, but his brother insists they need to check the artifact for any undue structural damage first. The two argue back and forth and Tocasia steps in before it gets out of hand. The two rarely argue, but when they do it can get out of hand. She tells Urza to give his brother his turn.

Mishra takes off, and rather than fly the the even leveled flight that Urza took, he flies with constant dips and turns, and at one moment he flies beyond sight of everyone. Urza runs towards the closest hill for a better look, but Mishra comes back and lands before too long. Mishra is scolded for putting himself in the position to be attacked by rocs or be placed in other danger without everyone knowing where he was, and Mishra responds he wanted to take a closer look at the drawings. Urza asks what he's talking about and he explains that there are drawings in the sand that he only noticed from up above.

Once more they argue about whether they should focus on evaluating the ornithopter or if they should set out for the new dig site, and once again Tocasia steps in and says that everything can wait until after they celebrate. That night Mishra thrives in the telling and retelling of everything that went on, with each story more elaborate than the last, while Urza sits off by himself. Tocasia says he should go out and enjoy himself and he replies that what he enjoys is working on devices.

Without any prompting he says that he had nothing against Mishra taking his turn. It's just that a full check of the machine should have been done before he took off first.

"His own recklessness aside, he could have been hurt," said Urza.

"Yes." Tocasia paused. "But tell that to a young man who wants to be his brother's equal."

"I was only being prudent."

"And would you have been so prudent if you had lost the toss?" asked Tocasia.

Urza did not answer but stood watching his brother across the flames.

* * *


Oh the ornithopter. One of my favorite cards from the early days, and it's used to beautifully here. It's a 0/2 creature with flying, so what do you do with that when you right a book? You have it be the device that introduces non-magical flight to Dominaria, and have a Wright Brothers type of scenario. So perfect.

(I wonder how the Wright brothers decided who decided the historic first flight.)

The Intro

Usually I tend to have some criticisms to say when I say "More on this later." Not this time. This is just a chapter about life in the desert and still Grubb's style gives the chapter (and the book) such an epic feel. I mean this in terms of Epic Fantasy the genre and not the overused and overplayed "That's so EP1C!!!11!!!1!" that is used all over the place these days. We're just watching them dig away in the desert and still it all feels important.

Grubb's very much portrays this whole story like a myth or fable. The dialogue exchange between the two when they were fighting for who gets to fly it first is a perfect illustration of that. This style adds to the legendary nature of these two characters if you've learned about them just through the cards. This isn't just the life story of these two brothers, but the story that has become so well known that myths and tales have sprung forth from the events of their lives and has had such an impact that there are several translations about what transpired here. This style won't work for every story, but here it seems to fit just right.


We've already been given hints at the brutal disputes that the two brothers can have. Will the final straw be over a woman? Loran perhaps? Will it just be over one thing, or will it be an accumulation of things? Gotta just read and find out.

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