Theros Beyond Death: Chapter 2 | TokensForMTG: Best custom tokens for your game!

Theros Beyond Death: Chapter 2

14. 2. 2020

The Nightmare Weaver had always its plans with Theros. Some came together, others had been thwarted. But does it really matter for Ashiok? For after all, it might have found a dark treasure here, and the consequences for both Theros and the Multiverse remain to be seen..

blog image

 

CHAPTER II: Ashiok

 

Theros, near the edge of the Mire of Punishment, present

Dusk. Slightly bubbling surface of the Mire of Punishment, croaking voices of those poor ones sentenced to torment eternal as Theros itself. Slight gusts of breeze coming from who knows where. Grey rocks and amorphous shadows, maybe wood, maybe heaps of soil. And, above them, two hovering long bare feet with clawlike nails. Not alone, of course. If you dared to raise your eyes, the feet would become legs, the legs going into hiding under a skirtlike dress and cape; even higher a criscrossing leather straps firmly embracing an ash-colored lean body, thin arms ending with long fingers and even longer nails. The most frightening thing, though, was what was growing from his torso upwards. Ashen face, perfectly smooth, resembling a grayed, smoked alabaster mask… equally perfectly cut just above upper lip.  Two arches of cheekbones ending in an oryx-resembling slightly curved horns, just next to ears. And above them – nothing. Nothing except a dark, swirling smoke that looked like it has a life of its own. The mysterious visitor cocked his unreal head to side, as to listen to something heard only by them. And then, a sly smile split the masklike half-face.

 

Ashiok, undefined past

 

Ashiok loved this world. It has something extra compared to the others for it. It was unique. Only once saw Ashiok metaphysics similar to this, on a peculiar plane named Kamigawa. There, two worlds existed side by side as well, intertwined and sometimes interacting. But Ashiok had just a brief chance to explore the potential there, because the local spirit-guardians of the plane had next to none understanding for otherworldly visitors with, so to say, not exactly „good“ behavior.

But no matter what, even Kamigawa was no match for Theros. Nowhere else the ideas and belief of living things can accomplish things like here. The physical world of Theros was adjacent to the starry realm of Nyx, home to gods and godlike beings. Nyx, something like a leftover after Theros was created from the chaos of the Blind Eternities, was a kind of left in-between – partially a physical dimension, partially composed of  the primordial matter of the Multiverse, capable of accepting any form and appearance. Since that moment, the fates of Theros and Nyx were intertwined firmly, and the starry realm just waited to be given form, just like a piece of clay on pottery wheel waits for the artisan’s hands.

Not that this all was of an extra interest to Ashiok. What was important for it – ideas and belief had immense power here. They were capable of affecting Nyx and Nyx  in turn affected the physical worlds. And where there are ideas, there are dreams. And where there are dreams, there are nightmares.  For Ashiok, it mattered that dreams and nightmares induced by it were able to take form much more easily than on other planes, but also, they were far more various. At other planes, the individual types of nightmares could be counted on fingers of two hands, but on Theros, there were not dozens, but hundreds, even thousands. Ashiok mused whether it even remembers to be able to create so many, so peculiar ones. And because its deal with Phenax still stood, the veil of invisibility covering it from the eyes of the gods made the process easier. 

 

The few months spend on the material world of Theros made Ashiok familiar with many of the laws of the plane.  Naturally, if you do your work thoroughly, you can learn a lot even from nightmares. Soon, time to explore the Underworld came. At other planes, dead would be of no use for Ashiok, but again, Theros was unique. Apparently, the deceased continued to exist in some way here until their – for lack of better worlds, soul – dissipated and became one with the plane. Ashiok was reminded of Amonkhet here, where the dead keeps their un-life until the last shred of flesh is scoured away. It was similar here, only the dissipation regarded soul, not flesh. And finally, it was at least partially reversable, at least judging from the Returned. How fast and how long the dissipation would be was strongly, meant very strongly individual.

Ashiok’s s mind expanded and scouted the surroundings. The knowledge of Theros denizens about the Underworld were quite accurate, its parts and their characteristics described by human philosophers and sages quite perfectly. And the veil of invisibility worked. The Underworld was different, kind of physically „muted“, but that made the nightmare creation even easier.

It was really a perfect inspiration, exceeding Ashiok’s wildest expectations. Every part of the Underworld offered something else: tiring and exhausting dreams of Phylias, desperate nightmares of endless drowning in  the Mire of Punishment. Infinite number of monsters and beasts from the arenas of Agonas, terror-inducing inky void of the Nerono ocean. Or the endless turns of the Labyrinth of Memories (that was, honestly, kind of boring, so Ashiok significantly improved it a bit by its creations, to its delight)

After some time, only one place was left to explore. The one that differed from the whole world. Ilysium, something like a paradise for the virtuous and good.  Here, the erosion of thoughts and soul happened differently. First, the unpleasant memories and thoughts vanished. Such a pity. Nothing interesting here for Ashiok – but for it, nothing like unfinished work existed. Fortunately. Because, in the end, the - originally just fleeting -  exploration uncovered a treasure…

 

***

 

Somewhere in Ilysium,  undefined recent past

 

Ashiok floated above blossoming countryside. For a random observer, Ilysium would resemble a paradise indeed – full of scents, colors, bathing in the rays of the sun floating in the local „sky“, green olive leaves rustled by breeze. Local inhabitants lived their lives after life like they were on Theros again – in stone huts and palaces, gardens and agorae. The cruel reality of the fact that Ilysium is a deliberately created and maintained anomaly, an antithesis of the rest of the Underworld kept together only by will of Erebos, the Lord of the Underworld – and quite easily destroyable, if that ever came up – elicited an ironic smile under the swirling smoke. But Ashiok was not here to destroy anything. It did not want to gamble with Phenax’s gift and risk angering another god(s) after the brief Cacophony stunt. Not at all. Hidden from both the eyes of gods and the deceased, Ashiok routinely scanned the minds of locals, but to no avail.  All negative thoughts and bad memories evaporating, leaving just faded echoes at best. A philosopher reminiscing about his grandchildren attending his deathbed. A woman remembering her youth in the woods of Setessa. One boring, content soul next to another. All minds clouded by the colorful mist of Ilysium’s influence, of absolutely zero use for nightmare harvesting. Were it not far beyond such things since long ago, Ashiok might probably felt the urge to retch.  It floated higher a bit and spared one last look to the closest grove with stone building around. A woman came out of one hut, one that did not quite fit the rural paradise here. Instead of a normal clothing, she wore a plate mail, so unlike anything seen in Theros. Her breastplate bore a long narrow hole that probably cost her her life. Out of curiosity, Ashiok sent a mental tendril to touch her mind.

 

The result was overwhelming. The mind of the woman was clouded by the Ilysian mind-mist, but unlike everywhere else here, it was of no effort for Ashiok to scatter it and find dark shadows. Beautiful dark shadows. Some amorphous, born of fear and unthinkable horrors, some sharp and hard, like shards of hate, even more suffocating, clouds of pity, self-doubts and self-disappointment. Even deeper, an answer to the woman’s peculiar appearance  - a burning piece of existence similar to the one Ashiok had. A planeswalker spark. Tell me your name, my precious jewel,  thought Ashiok for itself, simultaneously sending a wordless order to her. The reply came instantly, without the woman even knowing.

 

Elspeth Tirel.

Elspeth, spoke Ashiok to itself. You are truly a treasure, without even knowing it. It again rustled the Ilysian mist in her mind, and this time, it did not fully reform back. The dark shadows remained partially bare, prepared to worm their way back into her subconsciousness and consciousness…and that night, Elspeth awoke for the first time in the middle of Ilysian night, cold sweat on her back, grasped by a bad dream that should not exist in Ilysium.

 

***

 

Several very interesting nights followed. This Elspeth had to go through atrocious things in her life. The dark shadows invaded her dreams and gave birth to wonderful nightmares, although a bit...monotonous. Night by night, just one scene repeated – her own death by the hand of the Sun God Heliod. But Ashiok found a way to entertain itself even here.  Just a nudge here and there, and the scene became more perfect, more real with every iteration. A full manifestation of this nightmare was out of question, though. Phenax was generous with his gifts, but Ashiok has no desire testing his potential reaction to Heliod materializing in the Underworld.

Another strange thing was the persistence of this nightmare. Seeing a person dreaming the same dream again and again was very unusual. But that did not matter. Patience was Ashiok’s forte.

And lo, it took a few days and a different nightmare appeared. Elspeth herself slaying Daxos, her once-lover, whom she perceives as a monster.  Interesting… the monster was completely unfamiliar for Ashiok, and more repulsive than anything else. But this was the truly amazing thing about it. No matter how hard you try, you can never think up something for someone that the particular someone can, in their mind.  And as an inspiration, it is simply perfect.

 

Maybe it would be worth to spend some more time with this Elspeth and try to unearth even deeper buried memories and dreams.

Night by night passed, and the patience paid off in the end. In this dream, Elspeth was just a little girl, and the whole nightmare was full of monsters so hideous that it shook (albeit just a bit) even Ashiok. Partially mechanical, partially living horrors, a blend of flesh and metal into something as atrocious as deadly.  Showing no mercy, considering living creatures as imperfect, in need of perfection by their hands. Even the Innistradi alchemists and skaberen had not such warped ideas.  And suddenly, an amazing realization hit Ashiok. This nightmare is different. It had to be very old, from her childhood, but it is wholly impossible to remember such marvellous details if it had once been just a product of child’s mind. It had to be….real.

For the next couple of days, Ashiok focused only on one thing: To find out where this nightmare came from. It was not easy, because it appeared only scarcely (no matter how hard Ashiok tried to invoke it every night). It was her plane of origin, overrun by creatures from elsewhere. The monstrous invaders conquered the whole plane, reshaped it into a warped hellish version of itself, its inhabitants either enslaved, tortured, or exterminated. Elspeth was the sole escapee thanks to her planeswalker gift.  Her plane became a world of living nightmares. Horrors linked to a single, outworldly-sounding name.

Phyrexia.

 

Edge of the Mire of Punishment, present

 

Ashiok smiled. Its time at Theros was coming to an end. Something almost impossible happened. It has found a place that appeared even more promising than Theros. But before saying farewell, it wanted to enjoy the beautiful bleak look at the Underworld for the last time, where it had so much fun.

 

It recalled its little game with Iretis and meeting the God of Deception. It mused about  the dreams of the city, of the birth and very brief life of Cacophony, god of cities, and its almost instantaneous demise in the hands of Ephara, before it had even time to fully realize its existence. Its grander scheme for the whole Theros with the Sleep Curse, thwarted by the planeswalker Fayden and Ravos, the Soultender. It thought about Heliod, the proud and fierce ruler, slaying in cold blood the one who gave herself to his service in good will and complete trust; his hand guided by his own pride and fear.

Yes, even the gods can feel fear. And where there is fear, there is an open gate for Ashiok.

 

It thought about Elspeth, running for her life since childhood, losing one home after another, losing one battle for a world after another, repeatedly disappointed and disheartened, and ultimately betrayed. And then, for the first time in who-know-how-long, the alien mind of Ashiok was briefly flashed by something that could be considered…sympathy?

My jewel, it thought. You gave me a key to a treasure outright. I think that the lesser creatures might be talking here about…well, what’s the word… gratitude? Ashiok was not willing to let her nightmare materialize for a good reason, but what about just a tiny piece of it? One particular piece, once a work of gods? A work of gods that event he gods feared? This might be very interesting indeed.

Its (half of) ashen face still showed the sly smile.  With it, Ashiok reached to Elspeth’s mind for the last time and imperceptibly nudged one of the black shadows, that seemingly solidified and glinted like an onyx shard.

My farewell gift, my jewel. To you, and to this world.

There was no reason to linger. Ashiok concentrated and suddenly the edge of the mire saw just a quickly dissolving cloud of bluish-black smoke. In front of Ashiok, the whole Multiverse with all its planes spread itself out.

It would not be easy to find this „Phyrexia“ – whatever it was – among them,  but as we said before, patience was Ashiok’s forte.

 

 

to CHAPTER I: Elspeth

to CHAPTER III: Heliod

 

This fan-fictionis unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

New at store

Squirrel MTG token 1/1

NEW

1.99 $

+ -
Thopter MTG token 1/1

NEW

1.99 $

+ -
Vampire MTG token 1/1

NEW

1.99 $

+ -
ALL 166 NEW PRODUCTS

Previous blog posts

Previous post main image

Theros Beyond Death: Chapter 1

6. 2. 2020

Dear friends, today we launch an exclusive series that you find only on TokensforMTG…

Find out more