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Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Gathering Dark - Chapter 8

Jodah's not dead yet.

Chapter 8 - Safe Havens

Better known than the enigmatic City of Shadows was Ith's Councilhouse, also called Mairsil's Citadel, or the Magician's Conclave. At a time when all the rest of the world was plunged into darkness and ignorance, the Conclave served as a beacon of magical thought. Here was the home of Ith, and Mairsil, and Barl, and Shannan and a host of other names that are invoked by mages to this day. Here was the true flowering of magic, where the persecuted spell-casters could find a place to work, to research, and to study, and they came from all over Terisiare to benefit from this magical renaissance.

-Arkol, Argivian scholar

Jodah wakes up on a beach, and a gull disappointed that he isn't dead and joins several other gulls in fighting over the scraps of what's left of an eel . All alone, the thought of Sima's betrayal digs deep. But she's dead now. As is the captain, his first mate, and all the others. Just like Mother Dobbs is likely dead, and certainly like Fendah and so many soldiers on both sides of the battle at Pitdown. Like Voska.

But he's alive. Through magic or luck, he's alive.

And as Jodah turns around to face inland, he finds out he was wrong about being alone. The Rag Man looks at him with a lantern in one hand and a satchel in another, turns and walks away.

Jodah shouted and began running. Running in the loose sand above the tide line would be slow going under the best of circumstances, and it was made more difficult both by exhausted muscles and heavy boots. When Jodah crested the first line of dunes the ragged figure was gone.

(That's it!? Noooo!!)

No wait. Jodah spots him on the crest of the next dune, clearly waiting until Jodah sees him before moving on.

(Oh Grubb. You got me.)

On and on the Rag Man leads Jodah further inland, until Jodah spots him waiting by the entrance of a cave and going on in.

"Who are you?" said Jodah.

The ragged figure went to the far wall and sat on the earthen bench.

"I said, who are you?" repeated Jodah.

The figure pointed to a similar earthen bench on the opposite wall.

That's not good enough. Jodah wants answers, not silent orders. Jodah is afraid to know what will happen if he pulls down the Rag Man's hood to reveal his face, but his anger at not being able to even see who he's talking to is greater.

However that still doesn't match the inhuman speed of the Rag Man . The Rag Man's arm is a blur and he grasps onto Jodah's wrist before Jodah can reveal his face, and with authority he twists his wrist enough to let Jodah know he's in charge.

Too bad Jodah doesn't listen.

Instead Jodah attempts to use his left hand to grab at the Rag Man, and so the Rag Man redoubles his efforts and tosses Jodah against the cave wall. In defeat, when the Rag Man once more motions for him to sit on the other bench, and raises one finger in front of where his lips should be if Jodah could see through the blackness within his hood, Jodah says he understands that he's supposed to sit down and shut up and he obeys.

In the initial silence Jodah wonders what kind of creature the Rag Man really is. He can't be human. In the following minutes Jodah feels weariness begin to take hold. That leads to fear that maybe he shouldn't be falling asleep in an unknown cave by some inhuman creature, which then leads to the reminder that the Rag Man could have killed him so many times over, and yet so far has only helped him every time he's appeared.

Jodah falls asleep, and the Rag Man waits.


Jodah wakes, and Rag Man stands up and makes it clear he wants Jodah to follow him outside. Jodah gets up and as he nears the entrance, the smell of salt and beach is no longer in the air. The beach is no where in sight, and instead he finds himself walking out of a mountainside. Jodah turns around to look at the entrance, and he knows it is the same cave that he entered at the beach, it just now exits in a completely new location. It's clear that magic of some kind has come into effect, but not a kind that he can identify.

Jodah and the Rag Man walk towards a castle that rests upon a rise in the mountain.

Castle, yes, though a large one, larger than most towns, with a huge central keep and numerous towers. The towers were tipped by ornate iron frameworks that looked very much like a collection of holy symbols welded together at random. Equally ornate balconies with iron railings dotted the towers. Flying bridges and curved battlements spanned the spaces between the towers and the central keep.

In the waning light Jodah could see that the complex sprawled out and downward over most of the mountain's shoulder. Portions of the great building hung over the cliffs beyond, suspended by buttresses, and it would seem, aided by spells and wishful thinking.

For its part, the central keep was dominated by an ever-higher set of peeked roofs, some of thatch and wood shingles, and some of multicolored slate that caught the last glimmers of the evening light. There were lights in some of the upper windows, and even from this distance Jodah could hear the sound of people laughing.

(More on this later.)

The two walk across what Jodah realizes is an incredibly large, but incomplete, garden maze . The Rag Man points Jodah towards the main gate of the castle, and through a series of questions on his part and hand signals from the other Jodah is able to figure out that while the Rag Man wants him to go on to the entrance by himself, the Rag Man isn't abandoning him. He'll be around, but he has to keep hidden.

Jodah isn't quite sure what's going on, but he also feels like he has no choice by to follow the instructions he was given. Jodah knocks on the gate, and a small slit slides open. The person on the other side asks who he is, and asks if he's a wizard.

"I don't know if I want to tell you that," he said.

There was a chortle. "Well, when you decide you are sonny, you be sure to knock again. I'll be here all night." And with that the shutter of wood clattered shut with a final click.

Jodah forces himself to count to ten, twice, before calling for mana from the memories of his home, and knocks again. The shuttered is reopened, and Jodah declares that maybe he is a wizard, and he unleashes a blinding light in the man's face. The voice behind the door tells Jodah that he can enter... after he regains his sight so he can find the door handle.

...Inside the study of Lord Mairsil...

Lord Mairsil works on his latest clockwork creation.

He ran a long, elegant finger over one set of cogs, then another set, tracing the motion of the clockworks from one set of gears to another. The gears were made not of metals but of minerals and stone. The largest wheels were slate and marble, the ones that were smaller were made of quartz and mica, and the smallest and most vital pieces of the deice were carved from rubies and sapphires. One small, rune-covered plate near the heart of the construct had been fashioned of rare and perfect obsianus, and others were made of platinum, rustbane, and watersilver.

The machines glows as he turns it on, and Mairsil absentmindedly fiddles with his ruby ring as he keeps time with an hourglass. When he hears a knock at his door, the first thing he tells Barl, the chief artificer of the Conclave, is that the calendar they're creating is fast. He tells him that the jadeite cog is wearing down too quickly and needs to be replaced with one of nephrite. Barl bows his head and tells him it will be done.

With that out of the way, Mairsil asks Barl why he's come. Barl tells him of the new potential recruit that has nearly blinded the doorman. Mairsil instructs him to commence with the standard interview and audition, discover what kind of magics the new recruit can perform and what magics he might have on him, and to perhaps challenge him with one of the old toys. Mairsil tells him that he also wants to be informed when the audition is to be begin. He could use a diversion.

Oh, and one last thing. Mairsil asks Barl if he was the one that specifically carved out the jade cog.

Barl paused, then said, "No My Lord Mage, a student of mine did. He is a promising student, and I thought he could handle it."

Mairsil nodded. "The promise is unfulfilled. Tell him that I am displeased. And break two of his fingers as punishment. On the left hand, of course."

Barl paused again, then said, "Of course, My Lord Mage. Your words are my deeds, as ever."

Mairsil once again fiddles with is ruby ring, lost in thought.

...Beneath the castle...

Ith fights back the darkness he feels surging from the pit he hangs above from within his cage. The pit predates the Citadel, and likely the monastery that stood here before that. Vile creatures thrive down there in that darkness, and there is a darkness that claws at his thoughts. While Ith doesn't know what the creatures look like, and instead his imagination runs wild as to their appearance, what he does know is that these thought-creatures always call out to him. Always tempt him.

(Lord Ith returns! Crazy as ever I see.)

They could free him, if he would only free them. He was there as a lens of power, magnifying Mairsil the Pretender's abilities, swelling the usurper's source of mana. But he was also a gate, a doorway between the real world and the things that lived within the pit - or beyond the pit.

He dreamed of a man made of wires and bone, with snakes growing from the back of his head. The wire-man whispered horrible truths about Mairsil, about the Conclave, about the ever-darkening world.

(Wait- what? Crazy... or is there something more there? That sounds oddly familiar .)

Lord Ith wakes, and isn't sure if he hasn't woken into another dream. Time passes, the screams continue, as does the draining of his power as Mairsil uses it to power his spells and devices.

Then something changes. Lord Ith isn't alone. The Rag Man has returned and tells him that he's brought help. He's above, within the castle.

So close, but still so far away.

* * *

Fast Forward

I've been wondering when the story is going to get back to the Rag Man's mission in freeing Lord Ith. Been wondering how the whole thing was going to resolve with so much time spent with Jodah just wandering around, trying to find his place, all the while the Rag Man was always in sight but seemingly just hanging back and not doing much.

That's all changed now.

How do we get the story back on track and make up for lost time? Throw Jodah in a Safe Haven and have him pop up at the castle.

It works I suppose. Jodah is now in place. In place to learn from the Conclave and in place to play his part in the rescue of Lord Ith.

What does that mean for Sima and the City of Shadows, I have no idea.

Barl and Lord Ith

Oh look at that. Barl isn't the first name of Lord Ith. That's just something I assumed because of the card Barl's Cage . But rather than meaning that Barl is the one that is caged, it appears that he's the creator of it. Good to know.

From the Comments!

An anonymous friend of the blog writes:

Regarding Barl, you were actually right. Barl's Cage is a cage for Barl. Grubb thought it was supposed to be a cage made by Barl. The flavor text on Dark Sphere let's us know that our captives full name and title is Barl, Lord Ith.

That's quite interesting. The Acknowledgements in the very beginning of the book writes:

The world of Dominaria has man fathers (and mothers) and numerous doting aunts and uncles. The period of the Dark was friest founded by the design team and authors of that card set - Jesper Myfors, Richard Garfield, Skaff Elias, Jim Lin, Chris Page, Dave Petty, Beverly Marshall Saling, Ron Richardson, and Rick D. S. Marshall. As one who has lived within the borders of these cards fro several months, I thank them for their vision.

A particular debt is owed to Jesper Myfors; the original visionary who conceived The Dark. Jesper has been invaluable in providing background data and clarifying the original vision and intent of the card set. Jesper was the only one who could have proved that, regardless of what the final card text said, Barl the artificer and Mairsil the pretender were two different people, which turned soliloquies into dialogues. I hope that he (as well as the reader) finds this book true to the spirit of the age that he conjured.

I had this in my mind as I was reading this chapter, and I was misremembering the part about Ith and Mairsil being two different people. I thought it was referencing Ith and Barl as two separate people. That just makes this situation all the more weird. It's clear by the acknowledgements that Grubb had lengthy talks to get the story right, and yet we have this contradiction. Wouldn't it be strange if Grubb actually was referring to Dark Sphere and he mixed up the Mairsil when he meant to say Barl and that the story within this book is correct except the Acknowledgement is wrong?

I can't seem to find any card that implies that Mairsil and Ith are the same person, so it doesn't seem impossible that this is what happened.

There's no way to know for sure without asking. Maybe I'll do that some day. It's great to know that Wizards of the Coast is very open to talking with its consumer base and there is a good possibility they might reply to a question like this.


  1. Regarding Barl, you were actually right. Barl's Cage is a cage for Barl. Grubb thought it was supposed to be a cage made by Barl. The flavor text on Dark Sphere let's us know that our captives full name and title is Barl, Lord Ith.

    Without giving too much away, Barl doesn't serve much purpose in the book. At least, not so much that his actions couldn't be merged into Marsil's own, or even assumed by nameless inhabitants of the Conclave. For the most part, he's an excuse for Marsil to recite exposition without sounding like he's talking to himself. *This* close to being a non-character.

    1. That is quite an interesting comment that I didn't read all the way through at the time it was posted, as I was afraid of spoilers.

      (Thanks for doing your best to keep me spoiler free, but that's not something I could know until after reading it.)

      I've made your comment a part of the post now, with a response.