Points of Brilliance 1: Arrival at Scintilla
Revised version posted Oct 26, 1995
Originally posted Oct 15, 1994
My name is Thurmananthalas Greymantle, and I am a planewalker. That is, I have been blessed, through accident of birth or a gift of the gods, with the ability to pierce the veil that separates the different worlds of Dominia from each other. It is a rare ability, and those that wield it tend to grow strong in magic and leave a legacy that persists through the ages. That is, if one desires to. The brothers Urza and Mishra of Dominaria are still talked about today, although it is said by some that they were not true planewalkers. We are at least inheritors of their legacy. This is despite the fact they died thousands of years ago in a cataclysmic war of their own making. Or did they? I sometimes wonder. Certainly, life spans of hundreds of years are not impossible among those who have the Gift. Its very possession gives immunity to most diseases, and regenerative abilities well beyond those of normal mortals. I certainly plan to be around for centuries, possibly even the millennia that separates us from the Brothers' War.
Of course, I have a small advantage in this. I am an elf. Oh, you did not notice? I do not generally advertise the fact. With my natural resistance to aging, and the magics that I now command, I will be alive to confound other planewalkers for decades to come. And no, I'm not a Llanowar elf, those whose light dims almost before it starts, like humans. I come from a little-known plane, one which I am not about to describe, because we all need our secrets. Secrets keep planewalkers alive.
But I'll tell some of my secrets, those that won't cause me too much harm, to pass the time while we await the attention of the Dragon. You will rarely find a person who answers to the name of "Thurmananthalas," because he is usually disguised as a human named Miles Thurmond. Surprised? Elves are not welcome or even known in many places. So, the disguise. For some reason, humans are the most common intelligent race in Dominia. Maybe it is the fact that there needs to be a certain level of ambient magic for elves to be born. In any case, I know enough of the Blue school of magic to change my features to pass as human. It is not very hard; just a touch here and a touch there, and I can fool any mundane.
I spend a bit of my time in a plane called Scintilla, which is a plane of darkness, of both the luminary and moral kind, pierced with the occasional bright light. It is a plane that I believe the brothers would like, as machines similar to their clockworks have taken over the world. Steel wagons cross the countryside on roads made of once-flowing rock. Huge buildings in which more clockworks are made belch vast quantities of smoke into the air, obscuring the sun. The machines are brought to such a high level of sophistication that some people replace portions of their bodies with them. Like I said, the brothers would love this place. This is what would have occurred in Argoth if the brothers would have been more complete in their destruction, if Dominaria's Dark Age would have lasted. In all, an unpleasant place to be, unless you wish to pursue the call of Black magic.
However, Scintilla gets its name for those points of brilliance that shine out in its darkness. There are those who do not despair in the darkness, who work to counteract the burdensome presence of the machines. One of those is the light and hope of my life, a human named Ariel. She is cheerful in the face of bleakness, and persuasive in the face of apathy. A leader among the people of her college. (Not a magical one. Magic is little known to the natives of Scintilla.) And, surprisingly, she has the seeds of planewalking within her soul. I do not know how this occurred, because I have sent my minions throughout Scintilla to find other potential recipients of the Gift. While one can never tell for sure, it seems that the Gift is much rarer in Scintilla than it is elsewhere. I think that it is because of the despair woven into the very fabric of the plane.
Nurturing the Gift is a long and difficult process, and I am not sure that it has been done before. Generally, planewalkers do not wish to encourage the birth of more of their kind, as it heightens their peril. There are ways to track those with the Gift, and unscrupulous planewalkers often hunt down new ones of their kind to reduce their competition. Unless, that is, those planewalkers are under the protection of a college, like those of Lat-Nam or Kroog, now dust in the plane of Dominaria. I have refused Ariel's requests to leave her home plane, partly because she is not a planewalker yet. She wants to be, as she wants to see the wonders of Dominia for herself, like the bulky creatures of the Gravity Sphere, or the Living Plane where the land itself hunts for food, or the lofty spires of the shrines to Serra. But it is too perilous. So I slowly applied what I know about the nature of the Gift. I have time. And if I succeed, so does Ariel.
I guard Scintilla and its inhabitants carefully, with powerful spells of protection to keep marauders out. A planewalker has to be careful. Only one other has managed to find it, as far as I know. I was careless, and that is in part why I am here. I do not know exactly how he found it, but to my misfortune, he did. I had just pierced the veil between planes, returning to Scintilla after a long absence. It was a dark night, as the moon was only partly full. I refreshed my connections to my sources of power, and used a little of it to tug on the thread that connected me to a bog imp. It appeared, looked around, and chittered at me. After making sure that I could see through its eyes, I sent it off to seek Ariel. Bog imps are good creatures for scouting, especially in Scintilla. A short while later, I could see that the imp was perched on a street lamp, looking down at Ariel. I homed in on the imp, using my planewalking abilities to appear in an alley next to Ariel in almost no time at all.
She was sensitive enough to planewalking to notice this. Ariel looked around suspiciously, and then spied my shadowy form in the alley. She pushed back her long red hair (the color of a blossoming fireball) behind one ear, and called softly, "Miles?"
I admired her for a moment, because in addition to having a beautiful soul, she is also quite beautiful to those who lack the inner sight. She wore a black shirt and blue pants (called "jeans" on Scintilla), as was her habit. Then I called back, "Yes, I am returned from my journey."
She bounded into the alley with such speed that the imp hissed, despite knowing that this was a friend. She flung her arms around me, giving me a long kiss. The imp chittered, annoyed. Finally breaking the kiss, Ariel said, "Did you bring me back anything?"
"I will show you later. Now let's go get some food." I put my arm around her waist and prepared to jump to another location in Scintilla, when I heard the imp screech in fear. That screeching gave me a chance to interpose myself between the attacking troll and Ariel. Through the pain, I felt the presence of another planewalker, whom I correctly reasoned had followed me there. Kicking the Uthden Troll in the stomach, which barely slowed it down, I grabbed Ariel's hand and ran for the other end of the alley. I could hear the troll pursuing, so I mentally commanded the imp to slow it down more. I could hear them both screaming in rage and pain for a short while until the imp was silenced. I heard the troll's footsteps over the sound of my own heart beating in my ears.
Now, in a formal duel, I would not normally have this problem, because I'd be mentally prepared, and also be able to build up power gradually along with my opponent. However, when a planewalker gets ambushed, if his opponent is clever he has active threads to all sorts of power sources and creatures. This certainly seemed to be the case here. I had access to a reasonable amount of power, but I dared not take the time required to summon something, lest the troll and other possible creatures swarm over me. My fears were confirmed as I felt a chill coming from above. I thrust my hand into my long coat's pocket, bringing out a powerful artifact, a small red gem that dimly glowed with its internal energy. I put it in Ariel's hand and closed her fingers over it. While she is by no means a major spellcaster, I have taught her some rudimentary spells. Only planewalkers can link to lands by thread to pull their power in. Ariel can only take power from the land that she is standing on, and from artifacts, such as the Mox I just handed her. And this city was worthless for magical energy. "Go, Ariel. Find someplace safe, and don't let anything stop you." As I stopped and turned, she caught my arm, looked in my eyes fearfully and gave me a peck on the cheek. I caused as much "static" as I could, lighting up my aura to cover Ariel's escape. The troll was almost on me, so I drew my short sword from its hidden sheath. Fortunately, I am versed in hand-to-hand combat, though I loathe resorting to it. Soon, I had a long but shallow wound up my left arm, and the troll was slowly pulling himself together on the ground. There was not much time before the troll would be fully healed. I called upon the knowledge of an ancient and rare spell I had found almost by accident.
You see, normally an ambushed planewalker is at a huge disadvantage, because of his opponent's network of active threads. They normally lose, and often die. That's partly why formal dueling arose, to find the truly better adversary, rather than the more cowardly, dishonorable one. Each duelist starts the duel with only a few of his many threads ready to be made active, and slowly builds up that number. Fortunately, I have knowledge of a spell that causes similar effects: the Word of Rending. It wrenches all threads away from all planewalkers in close proximity. You have not heard of it before? I am not surprised. Yes, it plucks the thread from the caster, as well. This is very painful, but sometimes it is necessary. I hoped that Ariel was out of range, because if she was caught in it, she would be left defenseless. (Once a non-planewalker's threads are gone, they're gone, and must be retaught.) I tugged on my threads to some islands, and spoke the Word.
Pain blossomed through my skull, and I felt as naked as I was before I gained the Gift. An ethereal howl from the distance confirmed that I had stripped my unseen opponent, also. The troll, now fully healed, struggled to get up, unsure of what else to do. I removed his head, and having no link to the necessary magical energy, he died. Looking up, I saw my next foe was going to be a Hypnotic Specter, whose slightly glowing form was now hesitating, uncontrolled. I rapidly located a group of threads, connected, and quickly realized that if the specter got over its indecision, I would have no quick defense. So I ran down the dark alley.
Soon, I had sorted enough through my threads to summon some skeletons. They acted as my bodyguard as I ran through the streets of the city. I summoned another bog imp, and sent it to find my opponent. I soon found a defensible position in a ruined building away from the inquiring eyes of the mundanes, and inscribed a protective circle around myself. Good thing, too, because soon my bog imp returned and reported finding my opponent, but was fleeing full out from a dragon whelp. I reached out and gripped its heart with another spell. Its lifeless body crashed into the building near me. But quickly goblins burst forth from the ground nearby and opened fresh wounds in me with their swords. The skeletons didn't have a chance at all to stop them, they came too fast.
Bleeding from additional wounds now, I cast about and fortunately found the thread that linked me to a curious man named Giovanni, who was a master at stealth and taking from people things that they didn't need, such as their lives. The next time that the goblins rushed in to attack, Giovanni calmly ended their worthless existence. He smiled at me, sheathed his poisoned dagger, and skulked off into the shadows to find more of my opponent's minions to slay. I sensed him kill some dwarven miners moments later.
My opponent was now well aware of Giovanni's presence, so he held back his creatures where Giovanni couldn't get a chance to strike. And summoned more, I fear. Soon, he had several trolls, goblins, and a couple Dragon Engines making their way toward my haven. So much for secrecy in our duel. No matter. I had used the time to bring some more of the undead to my side, and a pair of Mesa Pegasi. Since my mysterious opponent had tossed aside the cloak of secrecy I had hoped for in our battle, I responded in kind. A golden light shone from the heavens, and the Angel Anastasia appeared at my side. She glanced distastefully at her surroundings. Unlimbering her sword, she charged with the rest of my troops to engage the enemy. She cleaved a Dragon Engine in two with her mighty broadsword, but Anastasia succumbed to the brimstone that it belched. Fortunately, some creatures never truly die when they are summoned by planewalkers. Her incarnation on Scintilla was crushed though, and I felt a tear roll down my face in response to the pain that she felt.
I had inflicted heavy losses to my opponent, but mine were in almost as bad a shape. The next creature that came to mind was Anastasia's sister, who had become caught up in the power of a demon, and had traded in her purity and light for the road to quick power. Zelnastine appeared in a puff of infernal smoke, and grinned evilly at me as she prepared to take flight. Her first opponent was the other Dragon Engine, stopping it from crushing the rest of the building I was in. She clove it in two, just like her sister. However, the Engine's fire was again almost too much for my angel. Two skeletons exploded in a shower of sparks as Zelnastine traded in their life forces (such as they were) to boost her own.
My opponent replied with a spell that shook the very ground. I almost followed the rest of my ground-borne troops into a fissure, but fortunately was able to fall away from the giant crack. Giovanni was not quite as lucky. Fortunately, many of my opponent's troops perished also. I sent Zelnastine and the Pegasi on another assault, but he caused a magical darkness to envelop them and they lost their way. Now he had an open channel. A couple trolls (Sedge and Uthden) and a flying clockwork out of a fevered dream (which I have since found out was first created by Urza, as something that could imitate the abilities of many different creatures) came through the open space. I gripped one troll's heart so that it fell in terror, but the others' blows rained down on me. Bleeding profusely, I ordered Zelnastine to land and guard me. Then to my fevered mind came the presence of one of the most powerful creatures under my command, a demon lord. In fact, the very one that took Zelnastine's wings. I sucked energy slowly, painfully, from the lands I controlled and opened an infernal fissure, glowing redly in the twilight, straight to the plane known as the Pit. I brought Lord Hegromeltastonite to Scintilla.
Zelnastine bowed to her master, then turned to face the oncoming hordes of my opponent, who thought better of the attack with a demon lord on my side. I smiled through my haze of pain, but remembering that such power had its price. Hegromeltastonite reached out and snatched one of the pegasi from the air, then swallowed the terrified beast whole. Spitting out a bone, he took flight, followed by Zelnastine and the other pegasus, who understandably kept his distance from the demon lord.
Unfortunately, a bolt of lightning shot out of the sky at Zelnastine, who used her dark powers to substitute some of the pegasus' life energies for her own. The doomed pegasus burst asunder, raining chunks of seared flesh across the city. I do not think that Zelnastine fully realized what would necessarily happen soon afterwards. Certainly, her survival brought the other planewalker closer to defeat, but the final result would have a severe cost.
The two demonic figures under my command did not quite defeat my opponent as I had hoped, even though I could feel him close to concession. He sent his trolls and clockwork after me again, but I slew them before they got to me by cursing the very land with a sickness. I was barely able to protect myself from it. And then Zelnastine realized....
The very presence of a demon lord outside of the Pit requires a heavy toll. If they cannot satiate their hunger with the consumption of creatures, they look to their summoner himself for nourishment. I had but two creatures that still lived, Lord Hegromeltastonite of the Pit and Zelnastine, so she had little choice. She tossed her serrated sword aside, and used one sharp fingernail to slit her own throat. She locked her fading eyes on her master's as he reached down to pluck her life away. It was hard to tell, but I think that even he felt a tinge of sadness as he consumed her incarnation. Then his feral eyes turned toward the figure on the other side of the battlefield, quite visible now that the buildings were turned into rubble. He launched himself into the air with a mighty beat of his wings as my opponent wove his magic into a wall of stone and left my sight. I could see no point in this, but as Lord Hegromeltastonite neared, the wall shot into the air and impacted on the demon's hide, deflecting his blows long enough for my opponent to flee. Hegromeltastonite howled an unearthly howl. I could see my opponent's trolls massing to attack me, in which would be the final assault because I was sorely wounded.
But then a bolt of lightning arced out of the cloudless sky, striking my opponent. I felt him fall in a pile of charred flesh through my magical sight. His threads faded away, like a spider's web dissolving. My questions as to how this had happened were soon answered as Lord Hegromeltastonite spied the new assailant: Ariel. She saw his fiery gaze light on her, and she turned to run. The demon started off in pursuit...
But then I closed off my link to him, forcing him back to the Pit. Suddenly bereft of the energy needed for his existence of Scintilla, he gave me a warning look and reluctantly dropped through the rift back to the Pit. I shuddered slightly thinking about the next time that I would need to summon him. Demons are hard to understand, because their thought processes are so much different from elf or human. But I think that he felt exactly as a human would have felt; I had deprived him of dinner, after all. With my opponent vanquished, his living creatures faded away back to their home planes. Unfortunately, I could hear the commotion of the natives around, and had no time to destroy the bodies left behind. I paused to find myself a mountain to borrow power from, and then a nearby island, before running off in pursuit of Ariel. Drawing on the power of the island, I launched myself into the air and landed where Ariel had disappeared from view. Looking around, I soon found where my love had wedged herself to hide from the demon, eyes wide.
I held out my hand. "Ariel, come with me. The demon is gone, but the police or possibly the army will be here soon," I said. "We need to get out of here." She quietly took mine and I quickly led her away, a Lightning Bolt on my lips for any opposition. There was none.
Hidden a safe distance away, I brought forth a shade. I sent it, and two more that I summoned immediately thereafter, to scout the area where my assailant was last seen. (Shades are hard to detect in dim light, something necessary for this task.) It turns out that we had been watched by many people. to my later consternation. But I did not find that out then. A quick kiss for my love, and we were away.
By the time that we made it to my home on Scintilla and I had healed myself, it was obvious that the shades would not find anything (and the police were swarming pretty thickly around the battle site), so I sent them back to where they came from. Watching Ariel silently eat across the table, I mused about who this mysterious attacker could have been, and whether it was specifically directed at me, or if it was a coincidence. And whether he had perished from the lightning stroke. I later greatly regretted not hunting him down that very night, for he had survived and even more rabidly sought to do his mischief.
To be continued...
The terms "Dominia", "Dominaria", "Urza", "Mishra", "Argoth", "Lat-Nam", "Kroog", "Serra", "Uthden Troll" and "Dragon Engine" are property of Wizards of the Coast. The rest of "Points of Brilliance Part 1: Arrival at Scintilla" is Copyright 1995 by Timothy Bailey. All rights reserved. This story may not be distributed for profit, with the exception of the normal charges for online time.