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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Eternal Ice - Chapter 4

Planes and planeswalkers.

Chapter 4 - Task Mage

The planeswalkers were not the only new beings to walk the frigid lands of the Time of the Ice. Entire races and species transformed - the great eagles of the earlier years became the huge aesthirs, the aurochs grew shaggy hair, and the elephants regressed into earlier, hirsute forms, becoming mammoths. Is it any wonder that mages changed as well?

This was an era when magic moved from experimental to established, from proscribed to respected, and from hunted to nurtured. It should have been no surprise to those at the time that there would be a blossoming of magical specialists.

During the Ice Age there were elementalists and archivists, machinists and hydromancers, shamans and enchanters. There were wizards who swore by particular colors or sets of colors. There were wizards who did nothing but battle other wizards, and there were those who were eternally mired in research.

And then there were the task mages as well.

The task mage came into being from the simple fact that, while in theory anyone can learn to cast a spell, not many do, and very, very few do spellcraft well at all. In this wizards are similar to musicians. The truly great bards and troubadours can rhyme on the spot, create new melodies, master any instrument, and do so with grace and elan. most of the rest of the populations aren't real singers, or composers, or players, and can't be bothered anyway. Then there are those who know one or two good songs, and carry a tune, and entertain with those songs and nothing more.

Those last, in magical terms, are task mages. They know a few spells very, very well but have lacked either the desire or ability to press on to discover the nature of magic itself. It is all just a cute parlor game for many of them, or a quick way to raise some coin. So they sell their ability to cast spells to the highest bidder.

Task mages, then and now, are universally regarded with suspicion. Full mages resent their willingness to cheapen their craft by accepting money, as well as by the fact that the task mages are doing nothing original. Local leaders think of the task mages as untrustworthy magical mercenaries, willing to switch sides for a higher bid. The common people find them only as useful as the spells they know and think of them as a little dangerous. After all, aren't
real wizards supposed to be hiding in their towers far away, as opposed to operating in the merchant's district? What were they doing here anyway?

But as the greatest of the task mages of this age once said, "Hey, a girl's gotta eat, right?"

-Arkol, Argivian Scholar

With a better understanding of Lim-Dul's needs, Jodah redoubled his pursuit of information both about planes and about the planeswalkers themselves. The difficulty remained in the fact that none of the sources were written by planeswalkers themselves. Even Kayla bin-Kroog's The Antiquities War ends right before Urza's apparent ascension.

But the research continues. There comes a point when Jodah realizes that the scholars have faded out and been replaced to the extent that he's now the "oldest" of the summoned scholars, but the work continues.

A few days after Lim-Dul's confrontation with Leshrac, one scholar in particular catches Jodah's attention. Not because of anything in particular on how the scholar looks, but because of how he looks at him. Jodah catches him staring at him on multiple occasions, often enough that Jodah approaches him and asks if everything is okay. With a closer look, Jodah realizes this scholar in particular is much younger than all the other scholars that have been summoned, pretty much just a boy, and he must have been nervous or embarrassed by his young age because when he responds, he talks in an exaggerated deep voice like a kid pretending he's older than he actually is. There's something familiar in his face, but Jodah can't place it and he tells the young scholar that things will be confusing for a bit, but all he has to do is concentrate on his work. Planes and planeswalkers, and that's it.

That night Jodah settles in his room and once again wonders why he was specifically chosen for this task. Does he actually have any particular skills that make him perfect to find the answer? Some experience with planeswalkers that he can't remember? Or is it like Marton Stromgald suggested and he's also being punished for something he's done to Lim-Dul.

But in the end, what does it matter. He's here, and he should follow his own advice and just think about planes and planeswalkers.

Planeswalkers seemed to be power incarnate, as far removed from humankind as man was from the goblins. They saw things before they happened, knew things that were unknowable, and cast spells that daunted the best of wizards with supreme ease. They could not be matched for raw power, and indeed, the only ones to have fought them successfully were other planeswalkers, and there were few witnesses to such duels who lived to tell the tale.

His research at least led him to the conclusion that they could only be in one place at one time, and although fairly indestructible, they did have physical bodies. Enough power could potentially kill one. And if Marit Lage is actually a planeswalker and not an avatar of power of some kind, then the tales show that imprisonment might be another option.

As for the Shard... wrapping his mind around that issue is even more daunting. It's hard enough for Jodah to imagine how vast one plane is, let alone multiple planes. Why a planeswalker would feel trapped when they can only travel between several infinities rather than an infinite number of infinities is beyond him.

That night Jodah dreamed. He dreamed of a wind-up music box, topped by a mechanical collection of figures that all rotated about each other and around a point at the center of the box. The figures were made of gemstones and precious rock, and they seemed to taunt him, to claim answers to questions that he did not have. They progressed around some point Jodah could not see. Frustrated, Jodah in the dream rolled a marble, glowing of white mana, through the ever-changing field of spheres. The marble shot through the center and emerged on the other side but revealed nothing at the core. The other figures wobbled as his marble rolled past.

Jodah wakes and understands. The planeswalkers are trapped here, much like the figures on the box. If the Shard is stable, they would remain trapped forever. But if that white stone, the rogue plane, was moving fast enough it would break through the boundary of the Shard and take nearby planes with it.

Jodah sends a progress report to Lim-Dul, and not even an hour later Chaeska appears to escort him to the throne room to report in person. The nubs on Lim-Dul's head have sprouted into horns since the last time he's seen him. Lim-Dul makes Jodah go through the explanation twice and demands to know where he got his sources from. Jodah doesn't hold back and explains that it came to him in a dream. A dream of a memory. After a moment of silence Lim-Dul laughs. The stone calendar , what he called a music box, is a perfect analogy for the planes. He just had never considered how the interference of the rogue plane would affect things.

(More on this later)

Jodah is dismissed and switches gears and returns to directing his army of scholars to find what they can on killing a planeswalker. Once again he catches the young scholar staring at him, and it bothers him enough that later that night he takes a peek at the boy's work and is surprised to find that his notebook is filled with mostly doodles and nonsense.

The boy speaks up behind him, telling him that it's about time he showed up.

Jodah begins casting as spell that will incapacitate the boy, but the boy is faster uses a spell powered by the red mana of the mountains and it's Jodah that becomes disoriented.

"You must be in a bad way," said the lad, "if I can take you down so easy."

"I..." Jodah blinked as the last pieces of furniture seemed to right themselves. The others in the room were still sprawled in sleep, unaffected by their spellcasting. "I do know you, don't I?"

"Here we go again," muttered the scribe. He learned forward, grabbed Jodah's face in both hands, and kissed him hard.

Jodah's eyes were wide as the scribe stepped back and pulled the cap away, allowing a long flag of red-brown hair to spill down her shoulders.

"I'm here to rescue you, old man," she said smiling. She held up a hand. "Don't say thanks or anything."

...Immediately after...

Jodah's confused, and the boy... the girl... has to spell it out for him.

"Jaya," she said, her brows furrowed. The "J" was so soft it almost sounded like a "Y." "Jaya Ballard. Remember me? Task Mage for all occasions? Your daily dose of irritation? I'm here to rescue you for a change."

Jaya suggests they go somewhere more private so she can explain everything. He takes her to his room, and immediately she crosses over to the table and burns up the yellow flowers that have been the only source of decoration for his room since he's gotten there. She understands now that the reason he's so out of it is because he's been breathing in the Fyndhorn pollen this whole time.

But it's not enough of an explanation for Jodah. He tells her that he doesn't know what she thinks he is, but he calmly explains to her that he isn't real. They go back and forth, with Jaya insisting that he's the Archmage Eternal of the School of Unseen, Eternal being the key word, while he insists that he's nothing but a summoned thing. Jaya does her best to prove it to him that he's real, but there's just too much fear within him.

Jaya sighed. "Okay, let's take a different approach. you may be real. you may be fake. Regardless of this, I'm here to get you out of here. I'll nail you with another case of vertigo and drag you out if I have to, but I really could use your help. Are you with me?"

Jodah considers his fear. Fear of Lim-Dul, or perhaps fear of finding out what's locked away within his mind. Regardless... Jaya brings hope, and he has to choose her path.

...Soon after...

As they move through the hallways, Jodah feels like a great weight has been lifted from his shoulders. But before they can make it out, Chaeska come out of nowhere and manages to engulf Jaya's throat in his armored hand, and lifts her off the ground.

"It seems I've caught a thief," rumbled Chaeska solidly. "I will deal with her. You return to your room" In his grasp, Jaya wheezed, her eyes wide with terror.

"Chaeska, I can explain..." started Jodah.

"I said, I caught a thief," repeated Chaeska. "Go to your room, and I will have no reason to tell the master about it." deep within his muscled face were little red pips of anger. "Serve the master, as you have been created to do. Now!"

Jodah takes a step backwards, then another. Chaeska instantly dismisses him from his mind, satisfied that Jodah is sufficiently cowed, but Jodah surprises himself and summons a razor sharp blade of white mana and brings it down upon the Keeper's arm. The blade slices cleanly through, and is surprised to find that inside his arm isn't just one bone, but a whole bundle of bones. The Keeper of Tresserhorn is undead. Or at least part of him is.

An enraged Chaeska attacks, and Jodah does his best to dodge him. What's odd though is that Chaeska isn't trying to land any killing blows. Why isn't he trying to just kill him? Lim-Dul can just summon him again right? Unless... unless he can't actually be replaced. Unless Lim-Dul lied.

The truth finally sinks in. And Jodah's anger rises. He taps into his memories of a volcanic island and unleashes a blast of flame directly into the Keeper's face, and Chaeska runs away, flaming and screaming.

They make it to the exit, and Jaya warns him it's going to be rough out there. She asks him how he feels, and he tells her that he finally feels real. Jaya pushes open the door and together they walk out into the snow.

* * *

Jodah, For Real

That was quick. Grub didn't waste any time dragging this mystery out. He just laid out the red herring one chapter, left clues in the next, then revealed the truth in the one after that. I appreciate that. Not all mysteries need to be saved for a twist ending. In this case it was used to transition us into the next phase of the book. Jodah understands who he is, now we need to discover what he's going to do.

It's not like Lim-Dul's plans to learn about planes and planeswalkers are all that terrible. It's his armies of undead that are being sent out to destroy all of life that is probably his bigger concern. How will those two come together?


First of all... how can you not factor in how the rogue plane would affect things when it comes to the stone calendar? Wasn't it designed by Mairsil to specifically detect when Phyrexia was closest to Dominaria?

And second of all... at this point I'd forgotten all about the prologue. I've been thinking that Mairsil and Lim-Dul are completely separate people. But if Lim-Dul remembers the stone calendar... how much of Mairsil is in him? Is Lim-Dul actually a combination of the mage Mairsil and the soldier Lim-Dul? Or is this actually Mairsil in Lim-Dul's body? Or is there something even more. Something in the ring that corrupts whoever wears it, or someone as yet revealed that has possessed the both of them?


Leshrac mentioned that he gave Jodah to Lim-Dul as a gift. Is that how this planeswalker business will still tie into the story? Will Lim-Dul plead to Leshrac and tell him that he needs Jodah back? Will he tell him of the progress that Jodah has made and insist that he needs him to complete his research? Jodah won't be able to stop him if Leshrac intervenes. That means he's going to need to be under the protection of another planeswalker.

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