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Monday, March 12, 2012

The Gathering Dark - Chapter 1

Enter: Jodah

Chapter 1 - Memories of the Land

Through the centuries there are a number of legendary figures that have come to us from the time of the Dark - figures, such as Ith, the horrific Rag Man, Vervamon the Elder, and
Tivadar of Thorn . Yet one figure is an enigma among these enigmas. Time and again throughout the period of the Dark - and up to the end of the Ice Age itself - there is reference to a folk figure known as Jodah. It has been suggested that Jodah is the surname of a family of sorcerers, or a honorific title of respect, or that Jodah is a previously unkonwn Planeswalker. The fact remains that Jodah (be he one or be he many) is today regarded as one of the founders of the magic as we now know it.

-Arkol, Argivian scholar

It's cold. The whole world is cold. And Jodah isn't afraid to speak up and say so. His mentor, Voska, on the other hand just laughs and tells him that things won't be getting any warmer until Jodah lights that fire.

Jodah stares at the pile of wood with hate. Hate for the cold, his situation, hate for being far from everything. But hate isn't going to light the fire. Force of will isn't going to light the fire. This is a test, and the test is summon forth the power of the land and light the fire with magic.

"Whenever you want to start," said Voska, leaning back and regarding the dark haired lad through slitted eyes. Jodah wondered if the older man was laughing at him. Probably. Voska was regularly amused by most things he encountered, particularly Jodah. The lines at the corners of the old man's face showed that he laughed regularly.

"I'd like to cook thse hares before the witching hour strikes," said Voska, offhandedly, motioning at the skinned and cleaned rabbits laying out on the flat rock, waiting only for the kiss of a flame.

(A nitpick just everything else is so great so far. Hares and rabbits are not the same thing and are not interchangeable. They can be substituted one for the other if you need a quick prey mammal with floppy ears for your characters to eat, but both words cannot refer to the same specific creature. That'd be like using alligator and crocodile for the same specific creature in one paragraph, or an antelope and a deer.)

Jodah stares past the bundle of sticks and tries to summon forth all the memories he has of his home lands. He tries to think specifically about the mountains above his family's estates. Mountains contain the power of fire.

The memories of the mountains would not come. The haze-tinted ranges were visible from his family's lands, but they were always remote, always standing sentinel on the western horizon. They were the lands of the dead dwarf kingdoms and new tribes of goblins and orcs. The mountains were recognized and respected, but they were also feared. Voska had no fear of the mountains. He claimed to have been raised among the Kher peaks, and the mountains were his home.

Instead Johad thought of his homeland, many leagues behind them. He thought of the farms and orchards and gardens of Giva province. When his great-great-grandfather the might Jarsyl, was Jodah's age one could ride a full day in any direction and still encounter landholders who owed fealty to their family, and the manor ground brought such harvest of apples, cherries, and cranberries. Even when his grandfather Thargrin was alive, the harvests were plentiful, and tithes brought by the farmers were enough to enjoy a good life. Yet by Jodah's lifetime the family orchards were overgrown with weeds, and the surrounding farms were mostly barren, overfarmed during the increasingly short summers and for the most part turned into pasture. The manor house had been built by Jarsyl's mother after the Devastation, but the passing of time had done it in. When he last saw it, on the cold rainy day when the family finally abandoned it, its supports had rotted dangerously, and its slate roof bowed precariously in the middle.

Jodah knows his thoughts are drifting down the wrong path but he can't help himself. He feels a door open in his mind and magic not of the mountains, but of the farmlands and plains, pours through. To hold onto that power without using it is dangerous. It might not be what his mentor has asked of him, but it needs to be released.

With a start, Voska is shaken from his thoughts about his pupil, about the potential and promise he sees in the boy and the fact that he is a descendant of the legendary mage, Jarsyl, when a great ball of light forms beneath the boy's hands and amongst the twigs. The ball then shoots up into the sky and explodes in a soundless flash.

When it's over, and they both regain their sight, Voska sees that the boy has done it. The fire has started. But he can't let that get to the boy's head.

"You weren't concentrating on the mountains, were you?"

Jodah says it just felt right, something that Voska himself told him to look for. Voska in turn tells him that he better look to feeding the fire so they can get their hares cooked. Only then will they walk about what he just did.

As the boy turns around to look for wood, Voska allows a smile to touch his lips, and he's sure Jodah does the same.

...After a meal of hare and potatoes...

Jodah asks how it is that mages keep track of all their spells. The answer is quite complicated. There are any number of ways. Some use songs and verses at mnemonics, some carry trinkets, as for Voska, he imagines a tall tower with hundreds of room. Each room has a balcony and within each room contains one of his spells. The method must be personal. A book can be written with every action and nuance to every spell a person knows, but it will serve as little more than a source of education to someone else. Much like a book describing every motion of a dancer will never be able to replace watching a dancer in action.

Voska reaches into one of his saddlebags and pulls out a small, round mirror the size of his palm. He tells Jodah that it predates the Devastation. It was passed down to him by his mentor when he cast his first spell, and now it is being passed down again. He was told it was part of a machine created by Ashnod the Uncaring herself. But when asked if it is magical in and of itself, when asked what it is that it does, Voska tells him it's used for reflection and laughs at his eager young student.

Jodah knows his teacher doesn't mean anything by his teasing, but it still gets to him. Regardless, there's always more to learn and Jodah changes the topic of conversation to ask about why it is that books of magic are banned.

Voska begins with his regular joking manner by saying it gives something for the priests of the Church of Tal to do, but soon enough he goes into a more thorough explanation. It's about fear of the unknown, of a power that they cannot control. The Devastation, short for both Urza's Devastation and Mishra's Devastation depending on who you're talking to, also known as The Brothers' War and the Antiquities War is the most destructive event of all of known history. When Jodah corrects him by saying that the brothers weren't wizards and didn't do any magic themselves, Voska says that only further emphasizes his point. They were powerful and different and had abilities beyond those of normal people, and the church fears that new wizards will rise that bring about a new Devastation... and more importantly, could rival the Church of Tal themselves.

The conversation comes to an end when a guttural laugh sounds in the darkness. Goblins . Voska tells his apprentice to get behind him.

Down the hill there were more voices, trough and guttural, trying to form human speech without the proper vocal chords. "Oi, the fire!" said one at last. "Annyboda home?"

"Hello, the darkness," came Voska's voice in return, strong and confident, the smile in his voice again. "Only a simple traveler who desires his solitude. Nothing more or less."

The conversation goes where you expect. One goblin insists on intruding despite Voska's polite yet insistent demands that they leave. He lights one of the goblins on fire, and while the goblins are surprised to discover that he's a mage, one of them does manage to release an arrow that strikes Voska right in the shoulder.

Things are looking grim, and Jodah knows this his fault. He knows his spell must have alerted the goblins to his presence. With knife in hand, he gets up from his crouched position to defend his master... but as he steps forward he trips. When Jodah looks back to see what he tripped on, there is nothing there to have caused his fall. Well... there is a hooded figure further back that linger but a moment before vanishing.

But as all hope is just about lost, arrows fill the sky and whatever goblins aren't struck dead instead turn and flee the human rescuers armored in the colors of the city-state Alsoor.

An unarmored man marked with the twin subursts of the Church of Tal approaches and perhaps this isn't the rescue they were hoping for. Both of them are being arrested for practicing magic within the lands of Alsoor.

* * *

Jodah and Magic

That's pretty much what this chapter was about. Despite The Brothers' War being the first Magic book, there was actually very little magic in it. Now it's time to show the book reading audience the magic in Magic: The Gathering, and the most basic tried and true way to do that is with teacher and apprentice.

So we have Jodah, formerly of a wealthy family whose fortunes have fallen apart much like the rest of the world and more attuned to White magic than Red. He's a descendent of quite a powerful wizard, and as the appearance and actions of the Rag Man (and the fact that he's on the cover) can attest to, he's likely the person that the Rag Man was sent to find by Lord Ith.

But first he has to survive some religious persecution.

The big question is... will Voska survive? The Rag Man didn't seem to want to interfere until Jodah himself started to get involved with the goblins. And what better way for Jodah to be convinced to leave with this stranger than to have what's left of his world be stripped of him.

Usually a story will have the hero in his peaceful life become disrupted when the mysterious wizard comes to tell him he has a destiny, this time it may very well be the other way around... or at least the mysterious wizard character was chopped into two characters. The wizard that substitutes for his family and village life, and the mysterious stranger that has to take him away.

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