Points of Brilliance 4: Bindings
Revised version posted Nov 17, 1995
Originally posted Dec 23, 1994
Stay tuned after the story for a brand new Magic card!
Smoking my pipe in the room atop the tower of my home Sablemorn in the plane of Scintilla, I considered my early education a while longer. Ariel was somewhere amongst the rooms below, no doubt amusing herself with one of the many forms of entertainment the plane of Scintilla has to offer. Though many natives feed on the entertainment as if it were as necessary as food and water to their lives, throwing their very souls into following their particular favorite, it seems to be more of an innocent pastime with Ariel. Her innocence burns as brightly as the unfortunate darkness in my soul.
I had set out to find new animals for my summon spells the next morning, with Wilda wheeling ahead, and Fang silently padding along somewhere in the vicinity. I took little with me, trusting in my believed mastery of magic to provide me with my needs.
Wilda plopped on my shoulder. "Heya, where do you want to go? There's lots to see, lots to do. But we have to be back by the time Ahrmin gets back, or we'll be in trouble...."
"My master will find me if I'm not back by then. I don't doubt that."
"But then he'll feed you to Growly for supper!" There was a low growl from the left. The sprite stood, tiny hands on tiny hips. "Hey, wolf, if you want me to call you something else, just tell me!" She laughed.
"I thought you said you could understand wolf speech."
"Shhh, don't tell Growly that."
I sighed and continued my trek.
A couple hours later, we came to a shallow valley with a stream flowing down the center. Not having any particular destination in mind, I turned to follow it downhill. Wilda and Fang continued with me, although an outside observer would never know it, they moved around so much. About noon, I paused to drink out of the stream and eat some of the fruit I had gathered during the morning's walk. I ate eagerly because of my exertions, sitting by the peaceful stream. Yes, the lower regions of the Stonecraft Mountains is some of the most beautiful country that I have seen, and calming to the soul.
"Watcha thinking about?" came Wilda's voice over my shoulder.
"Nothing in particular," I said.
"Oh, yeah, and I'm a Craw Wurm. Now tell me the truth." I felt her poking me in the back of the head.
"It's beautiful country around here. A nice place to live."
Wilda fluttered around in front of my face. "Yeah? Flattery will get you nowhere."
I smiled, knowing where this would lead. "I'm not flattering you."
She got a shocked look on her face. "Why, why the nerve! That's why sprites are around, to get praise and flattery lavished upon us. It's our function, to soak up excess flattery."
"Well, I don't have any excess. Would you like to soak up some sarcasm instead?"
"Hmph. Since you obviously don't appreciate fairykind, I'll just go talk to Growly." She flew off in a pretended huff.
I continued to eat my meal, and take in the fresh forest air, so much like my home, but somehow more vibrant. Then I realized that there was water streaming down the sides of my head. I looked up, and got a faceful of water. I saw a blurry form jump down from the trees above and land near me. I scrabbled backward, trying to bring a spell to mind. But the form just stood there, laughing hysterically.
I finally blinked my eyes clear, and saw what was apparently a man, a foot and a half tall, wearing green pants, a green jacket, a green hat, and so on. He smiled.
"I see that ye were tormentin' the young lady there. I canna have ye do such a thing to me cousin."
"Er, your cousin?"
"What, lad, ye don't see the resemblance? We both be fairies, and I see that ye also have a touch of the blood in ye veins." He touched his ear with a stubby finger.
"Oh, that. Where I come from, elves and fairies aren't related."
"I think that ye be mistaken there, lad, but 'tis not important. I be Francis X. O'Reilly, at ye service. And who might ye be, o soggy traveler that has no respect for the wee folk?"
Trying to wring some of the water out of my robes, I responded, "Thurmananthalas Stormwind."
"Aye, 'tis truly said that the elves are a haughty race, that saddle their young with such fancy names, that make the tongue trip to speak them."
"Well, I'm sorry if you have a speech impediment, Francis, but I really need to be going." I stood up and began to walk away, in the direction that I had been traveling. However, I tripped and fell heavily on my face.
"Ha ha, lad, I see that ye big folk aren't as coordinated as ye think ye are. I have no such problem, because of me more manageable stature."
I rolled over, to see that the vine that had tripped me was now crawling up my leg. I attempted to struggle away, but it held me fast. "Francis...."
"So sorry to find out about ye plight, but you see that I, a lowly fairy, could not attempt to succeed at a task that an elf can't quite manage." He grinned.
The vines held me fast to the ground, pulling tighter, and tighter, and finally, when I thought that they would crush my bones, they loosened. And began to tickle me. I began to laugh uncontrollably.
"Aye, I see that ye have a sense of humor after all. Maybe ye are a salvageable elf."
Later, after long pleadings with Francis to help me, he finally decided to convince the vine to loosen its grip. I thankfully dragged myself away from it, gasping for air. "I wee bit uncomfortable, lad? I see that ye have chosen a perilous path for yourself here in the Stonecrafts."
"I have chosen nothing," I said, slowly regaining my breath. "If there is someone to be blamed, it is the gods."
He paused a moment, then continued slowly and purposefully. "Magic often bites the hand that wields it. And so do other mages. If I were ye, I would find me way back to where I came from, and hope that no one notices I have the Gift."
"Hiding afraid in the forest is not my way, fairy. Not the elven way. I have been granted something, so by Pellanestes, I will learn how to use it for the purpose it was meant!"
"I be sorry ye feel that way. Most children who find the Gift never mature. Tis the way of things, I'm afraid." He turned and began to walk away. "For what it be worth, I hope ye're one of the few survivors there are."
I scrabbled after him. "Wait, how do you know about planewalking? What isn't Ahrmin telling me? What-"
"He's too afraid to tell ye," came the reply over his shoulder. "I think that he's starved for companionship."
"But with all the sprites and wolves and apes around...?"
"=Planewalker= companionship. Never forget, ye're different. Ye'll never be quite the same as the day before ye stepped to another plane..." And he was gone.
Later, Wilda came back, finding me in a sullen, contemplative mood. "Thurm?" she asked, and waved a hand in front of my face. "Knock, knock! Is the elfboy there?"
"Hmm? Yes, I am. I was just... thinking."
"Well, don't strain anything. I don't want to have to carry you home."
Rising to my feet, I asked, "Are you ready to go on?"
"You're the one in charge here. I'm just the someone who might or might not lead you back to the cabin when you get your arm gnawed off by a wolf."
"Very funny. Let's go."
After another couple hours of travel, during which I saw little in the way of animate life, Wilda came up quickly and landed rather heavily on my shoulder. "Psst, I think that there's something ahead."
"Why do you think that?" I whispered back.
"Well, there's a reason that there hasn't been any birds singing for the last ten minutes."
I realized that this was true; even though I had been seeing little animate life, there usually was some rustling or some other sound around. Now that the sprite had mentioned it, I noticed just how quiet it was. "There's something out there."
"Right, elfboy. And it's not likely to be friendly."
"Well, that's what I came out here for, new animals..." Despite my attempts at hiding it though, my voice had a slight quaver.
"I think that we should go back."
"No, we didn't come all the way out here to turn around and leave." I began to inch my way forward slowly, keeping a lookout.
"Er, I'll circle around and look from the other side, yeah, that's it...." Wilda buzzed off before I could make an attempt to stop her. Some friend she was.
Using my magical senses, I thought I picked something up to the left, something vague. But I veered off in that direction, though it took me away from the stream. I began to carefully pick my way through the underbrush, trying to make as little noise as possible. A few minutes later, I caught a sudden shift in what the blob looked like, then it changed back. Though it unsettled my stomach even more, it did let me pick out whatever it was better from the background. I continued my progress, slowly, ever so slowly...
Then I was at the edge of a small clearing. I pulled back quickly, to stay hidden, because what I had been seeking was there. It was faced away from me, fortunately, so I could study it for a short while without it noticing. It was a lizard of some type with sickly green scales, about three feet long without the tail, and had six legs. As I watched from my relatively safe vantage point, it turned its head from side to side slowly, tongue flicking out like a snake's, as if aware of my presence. It seemed harmless enough, although I could see far more magic coursing through it than there should be. It cocked its head and turned around slowly. Finally it was staring right at me with its big yellow eyes. Suddenly, it hissed and showed a mouth full of sharp teeth, but no other movement. I began to back away thinking that as long as it wasn't being openly hostile, I could get away safely.
But I found my movements were in slow motion. Struggling vainly, I tried to spring backward, but instead toppled back and lay on the ground, still. The last thing I heard before succumbing to the darkness was the creature's strange growling, sounding frightfully like laughter.
"Now what did I tell ye, Elf with the Pretentious Name?" intruded into my personal darkness. "Sometimes, the magic bites back. Ye were far too naive to survive much longer."
"Yes. Too bad ye're stone now, or I might have been able to bring ye back. Oh, well. The universe claims another victim."
"I'm afraid that I can't. I wish yer soul good luck."
That was the first of many real-seeming dreams I had, lying there unmoving on the forest floor. Thankfully, something in my nature saved me from dying instantly, although I am not sure whether that was my elven heritage or my planewalking abilities. Or something else. But it was not an experience I would like to repeat.
One other dream during the long fevered days of struggling to breathe, to pump blood, to even think coherently, was just as real. I dreamed that I walked alone on a featureless plain, with only starlight to guide my steps. After an indeterminable time, I came to a low hill with an opening in it. I could only see the hill by the stars that it occluded, and the opening by a very faint reddish light that I could only see if I cocked my head at a certain angle. I decided to enter, as I had seen no other way to leave this place.
"Halt." The voice came to me, not as a voice, but as a thought. Or a feeling. I stopped, and looked around. Two points of deep red light flickered on slightly to the right of the opening, and I knew them to be eyes, though I could make out no body to accompany them. They stared at me impassively, daring me to make the first move. I took another step.
"Halt." This time, the thought was different somehow. Two points of bright blue light appeared to the left of the opening, and I understood it to be another being. I paused a moment, then took another step.
"Begone." Again, not so much a word but a thought. I looked around in the darkness, expecting to see a third pair of eyes studying me, but there was none. Only the red ones to my right and the blue ones to my left. I stepped again.
And entered a world of cacophony and pain. I screamed, but my voice was stolen from my mouth and became one with the howling and screeching around me. I focused my will, attempting to break free, but it seemed futile. But then, the pain and sound were gone. I slumped to the ground. After regaining my breath, I opened my eyes, and was amazed that I could see.
I knelt on virgin granite, pulsing with so much raw power that I burned my hands when I tried to stand up. Grimacing, I stood up without touching the rock. My hands were charred as if held in a hot fire for long moments, though the rock itself seemed cool to my legs and feet. I concentrated to heal the burns, but instead the seared flesh dropped off and began flapping around my head like an enraged bat. I fended it off, and it finally flapped away. My hands now seemed perfectly healed.
I now had the chance to look around me, and saw that I was in the middle of a mountain range, though one unlike any I had ever seen. It seemed as if the ground rose up around me, closing in over my head, with peaks thrusting out from it everywhere. It was almost as if I were inside a hollow ball with a mountainous interior. I shuddered at the sight of the mountains suspended above, pointing an accusing finger, ready to crush me.
Despite being able to see here, I was just as lost as out in the darkness. I searched seemingly for days for a way out, often singeing my hands on the bare rock, and finally found a small spring high in one of the mountains. It had a small pool surrounding it, and I stared deep into its depths, trying to fathom whether I could escape through it. My questions were answered when I heard a familiar thought echoing in my head.
"Halt." A pair of red eyes appeared deep in the pool, accompanied by a hint of a of shape around them. We stared at each other for a moment, then a slight earthquake knocked me off my feet. When I stood, I saw that a crack had opened in the mountain nearby, wide enough to crawl into. I turned back to the pool, and made ready to enter.
"Halt." Now, a pair of blue eyes appeared next to the first, with a slightly more distinct shape around them. A chilly wind began to blow for the first time since I was in this place, directly towards the crack. I steeled myself and made a first step into the pool.
"Begone!" came the reply. The ground shuddered again, and I almost lost my footing. But I took another step into the deep part of the pool...
And I was drowning. Not just physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Racked with self-doubt and apathy and unable to breathe, I curled up into a tight ball and waited for the end.
But it did not come. The pain subsided, and I slowly uncurled. When I opened my eyes, I saw nothing but dim bluish light. I slightly panicked when I realized that I was still under water, but I quickly calmed when I found that I could breathe. I sat up, and watched the beautiful swirls of power weave around me. But that seemed to be all there was. No prominent features on the floor I sat upon, and above all, no life to be seen. I began to swim upward, trying to break the surface. I swam for a long time, but never saw a change in the illumination, nor any sign of the surface. Just featureless water with swirls of energy dancing in it. I rested a while, treading water slowly, though it seemed to make no difference. After a while, I continued my upward journey. I must have been turned around somehow, because I soon came back to the ocean floor. I stood on it and considered my options. I had very few. I decided to stay near the bottom this time, because it was at least a feature I could orient myself with.
I chose a direction and swam along the bottom for another week or so, seeing only slight hills and valleys in the floor, but nothing to really break the monotony. Just as I was about to give up and think of another plan (though in truth, it was getting hard to think), I saw a shadow up ahead. I swam excitedly forward. What greeted my eyes was a small grove of kelp, slowly waving amidst the swirls of energy. I resolved to enter the kelp, because it at least was different than what I had experienced in the previous eternity. I scrabbled along the bottom, eager to touch something other than empty water...
"Halt." I screamed in frustration as the red eyes greeted me for the third time. I set my jaw and continued scrabbling toward the kelp.
"Halt." I ignored the blue eyes staring at me from the kelp bed.
"Begone!" the two mental voices screamed together again, but I gritted my teeth against the expected pain and flung myself into the kelp bed.
I felt so full of energy that I would burst. I bruised myself against unseen objects in a wild dance, felt myself die and be reborn, contemplated little slimy things that burrowed into and out of my skin. I exulted in the pain...
And then I blinked, because I was lying on my back in the forest. I sat up, and saw the creature that had felled me, lying dead. I puzzled over it, because I could see no mark upon it. Before my eyes, it slowly decayed to nothing.
I stood, rubbing my head and looking around for Wilda and Fang. I looked for a quarter hour before realizing that there was no sounds besides the ones that I made. No birds, nothing. I turned around and around, looking vainly for any other predators. But I saw none. Still disquieted, I tried to head back for the stream to sit and think. But somehow, the land was different. I was not surprised when I found no trace of the stream.
"Spirits! Why do you torment me?" I called at the top of my lungs. "I have done nothing. Release me from this torment! Answer me!" I kept shouting, but nothing happened.
As I leaned against a tree, recovering from my exertions, I felt a presence behind me. I whirled, and saw those same two red eyes boring into me from a nearby oak. The eyes came toward me, a shadowy form swirling out of the tree behind them. Then, to the left, the blue eyes blinked into existence, surrounded by a sparkling cloud. They both stopped about six feet from me.
"Please, tell me what you want...."
"You," came the reply in my mind.
"I am my own..."
"Yes! The Stormwinds do as they please, we go where we want, do what we want..."
"Damn you! I will not be controlled! None can order me unless I wish it."
"Yes," came the reply, like a chilly wind through me. My heart sank.
"Can I leave this hell?"
"Can you help me, escape?" I asked in a small voice, frightened at the eternities I had just experienced and unwilling to go through them again. And not knowing if this was only a dream, fearing it to be the real afterlife.
"Yes," was the reply, accompanied by gales of mental laughter.
"Please..." I pleaded.
"A piece of your soul," said the spirits, becoming more substantial as we conversed. My mouth clicked shut.
"No..." I said as an icy hand seemed to grip my heart. "No, not that...."
The clouds, light and dark, with the piercing eyes, began to fade away. At the last moment before their eyes winked out of sight, I called, "Wait! Wait!" I ran forward, but tripped and pitched forward onto the ground. I felt insubstantial teeth and claws rake my back, and a presence both hot and cold rip at me. I silently screamed....
And found myself blinking in the sunlight, staring up at the hand my master Ahrmin ip Wandrun was proffering.
"My boy, you are a very fortunate elf. Most who fall under the basilisk's power do not survive the landing." But it helps, I thought, to have something to cushion the fall. Though I didn't quite understand their significance then. Still, it felt as if my heart were still stone, I was so changed by the dream. Something had claimed me for its own, and I was not sure what it was.
To be continued....
And, as promised, here is your free card...
T: Target creature becomes tapped. Target creature does no damage in combat, and does not
untap as normal as long as Tickle Vine remains tapped. During the target creature's controller's
upkeep, add a -0/-1 counter to the creature. If this would cause the creature's toughness to drop
below 1, instead all Tickle Vine counters are buried and Vine's effect on target creature is ended.
Remove all counters if Vine untaps or is removed from play. Controller may choose not to untap
Vine during Untap Phase.
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Stop it, stop it!"
|Copyright © 1997 Tim Bailey||0/4|
The term "Craw Wurm" is property of Wizards of the Coast. The rest of "Points of Brilliance Part 4: Bindings" 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.