The Hero of Grixis
Excerpt from a journal entry by the Planeswalker of Light and Hope, real name Harry, found in his private quarters in Valeron Castle:
I've met many people, thousands of them, over time, from all corners of the Multiverse. Some rich, some poor, some powerful, others meager. I can say, however, that the ones I've invested the most interest in are the downtrodden ones, the ones who cower and submit to power far above their own, who go to bed happy because they got to live for another day, regardless of their hardships. Why would I want to meet people such as this? Because they are the ones I save.
I've been considered a hero many times over, by many jubilant, ragged crowds hailing their savior who comes from the unknown and brings the light. Little do they know how little light there was in the place I came from, the dark Shard of Alara called Grixis. There, I learned what it means to be a hero, to be the avatar of what could be, should be, can be of those who do not have. I feel that that is why I was born in that place, to train me to know how to stand up against the evils in our land and bring hope to those who have none. Even if I wasn't born for that purpose, I have still made that my purpose, and I'll keep it for as long as I live. I owe others that.
Grixis, one of the five Shards of Alara
"Why does it have to be us today?" one of the soldiers of my Iron Corps complained, carrying his large, weathered, empty water bucket with one hand, swinging it out of nerves. "I hate being out here."
"Shut your yap," another snapped, tossing his somewhat long, scraggly hair out of his face, firmly gripping his. His name was Teragoth. "It's just the rotation shifts. Everyone's gotta take their turn. And everyone hates going outside the hermitage. Did you forget that?"
He was not one to cross; he had a pair of deep, heavy scars on his face, along with pockmarks and lines from diseases and venom of the many demons, ogres, and zombies that roamed about. He was considered a survivor, one not easily claimed by the cackling darkness that surrounded us day and night.
"Uh... uh... I guess I did," the first said, the agitation and trembling respect in his voice. "Um... I'll not complain anymore."
"Good," the first grunted, keeping vigil for the many marauders that roamed the gristly lands around here. "You're not the only one."
"Just keep quiet, everyone," I said, firmly but gently. The other nine in the water-gathering party complied, letting their sharp-eyed vigil do all the talking. It was utterly necessary; going out of my hermitage, a castle with its upper half blown off, meant risking your life every time. The only real security could be found in the hermitage. It was a relatively safe one, with sturdy castle walls and turrets to protect the few thousand people living inside, and a complex of underground warrens for added measure. The roof was built over the missing top, making a flat appearance; we made sure it was strong, to resist Kathari trying to dive-bomb through it. We had heard tales of suicide bomber Kathari doing that to other hermitages; we made sure it didn't happen to us.
"And here we are," I announced quietly, making sure to keep the positive, progressive feel up for which I was renowned. The large well, over ten feet wide, stood right at the top of the hill of hardened, dead flesh, a sentinel of the Dregscape that lay all around us. The gray stone echoed with the sound of slopping, cold water found below, the rickety rope descending into the well's gut. The water down there was one of the most vital components of our hard life in this insane world of death; no one else bothered with it, since the undead needed no sustenance and the Incurables, the mutated ogres, found water in the people they devoured. At least a little something was set aside for us! We had a saying that there were three essential things to life on Grixis: food, water, and the dead staying dead.
"I'll crank first," I said, operating the crank. The rope groaned and creaked as it brought up a large bucket of the liquid treasure found below. As soon as it was up, the first Iron Corps soldier tipped its cold contents into his transport bucket and backed away. Then, I lowered the well's bucket again, preparing for the second load.
As we worked our monotonous job, we kept out eyes, ears, and noses primed for detecting any danger. The daily runs to the well were safer than most sojourns across the plane, since the flesh hill had a hardened layer from disuse, reducing the appeal of zombies and Incurables going here. That was one of the reasons our hermitage existed where it did and endured. Even so, hair-raising howls and growls could be heard from all around, as well as flesh-hungry screeches of Kathari from overhead. And that didn't count the booming, crackling thunder and lightning that came from the dark, gray storm clouds overhead that could mask an incoming marauder's footsteps.
"Whew. Last one," the smallest member of this excursion, Ilathan, breathed with a sigh of relief, filling his bucket with water and backing away.
"All right. Let's get back now," I ordered, giving the hand signal to start the return journey. The others were more than happy to comply; we started off, our progress slowed by the heavy but precious water we carried, our rough but protective armor clanking and rattling slightly as we walked. The armor for the Corps had come from what was found in the castle when it was found by wandering humans and what we bartered for from trade caravans.
I was the founder and captain of the Iron Corps, a trained assembly of able-bodied men in the hermitage united to a single cause: defending our lives and survival against the endless death and necromancy around us. I had heard tales of other brave hermitages doing the same, and I was inspired by the act. We were hardly first-class warriors, but we were enough to keep smaller gangs of devils and skeleton barbarians at bay and out of our doors. Many people depended on and respected us, and I pressured myself to make sure they were not let down.
I had heard a saying from a trader in a caravan say, "The fates created Grixis to train the faithful," and I took the words to heart; how else to make determined soldiers than give them a foe they had to overcome every hour of every day? Of course, If I could choose, I would give them a humane place to sharpen their resolve, not this tomb of a Plane. But, there was nothing I could do to decide what our place to scrape a living in was like; I could only change how we handled it.
Our walk was in silence, the Iron Corps troopers even less willing to call attention to themselves now that they carried their heavy loads. Under attack, they would be forced to either abandon their water and come back empty-handed, or else possibly die trying to defend it. Neither option was all that appealing, so we kept our silence even as the hermitage came back into view, its presence a sight for sore eyes even if absent for only twenty minutes.
"There," Ilathan exclaimed out of relief, slopping a bit of his water in his excitement, as he pointed at it. This was only his second time going on a water-gathering trip as a member of the Iron Corps.
"Shut up," another soldier hissed, his name Dorhan. "You wanna get us killed?"
"Well, excuse me if I'm glad to see the place that protects me from a horrible death out here," Ilathan retorted, getting clumsy. "You know, when I chose to join the Iron Corps --"
His sentence was cut off when he lost his footing and slipped, his bucket going flying and spreading its contents all over the place. Worse, Ilathan's heavy armor broke through the thin, hard layer over the dead flesh that made up the hill, and soft, stinking flesh oozed out. Worse, Ilathan began to tumble to the bottom, and had to seize a thick rib bone sticking out of the hill to stop himself; the rib tore out, exposing even more flesh. Ilathan, bucket and rib included, tumbled to the very bottom of the hill, and he groaned in the bruises he received and the knowledge of what was about to happen.
Dorhan cursed. "You idiot!" he raged. "Got distracted and had to fall, huh? Now look what you've done! We're dead! Thanks to you!"
"Shut it and get down there to help him!" I barked, trying to keep order as the other Iron Corps troopers got worked up, their bitterness and fear of their lives empowering them against their clumsy companion. "We don't have much time! We can all still make it!"
"All right, all right!" Dorhan cried, respecting my authority but feeling the pressure nonetheless. The nine of us hurried down the flesh hill, not bothered by the holes we punched in the hard layer by our running footsteps. We knew what was coming, and it fueled our haste. We feared the worse, and it arrived with a hungry chorus of growls wafting just on the other side of the hill through the thick, deathly air.
"Incurable! Big one!" one of the troopers cried, witnessing the beast stomping toward us, as we reached Ilathan and helped him up. Indeed, a massive Incurable ogre, one of the biggest I had ever seen, was lumbering toward us; its gnarled fingers dragged the ground due to its long arms, its jaw was long and wicked, and a thick tentacle was firmly attached to the thing's chest. Typical.
"Let's go!" I urged everyone, starting to run. It would certainly seem cowardly or dishonorable to greater societies, if they existed, to see a squad of armored warriors fleeing a single foe, but not us. This was the plane where those who lived to 40 were considered gods on earth and honored daily. There was no room for pride or honor to get in the way of survival.
The Incurable didn't care either way. Lured by the scent of flesh, the creature's sense of smell told it of a good late afternoon meal, apparently hungry enough to settle for the rotting material of the Dregscape. Imagine how it would like fresh meat! The thought of food drove the beast to give chase, running much faster than we could run from it, even though we grudgingly abandoned the water load we carried.
"Wretch!" I cursed, drawing my sword, a long claymore, slicing one of the Incurable's fingers fingers as it reached for me. The others prepared for combat, drawing their swords, maces, or morning stars, prepared to defend their lives. In response, the Incurable gave a bellow and swept its claws, upward. Even hacking at its shins and drawing its blood did not distract it; one of us was caught and flung upward, high into the air, writhing and screaming. The tentacle melded onto the Incurable's chest, undoubtedly by necromantic magic, shot forth and impaled the man, nearly killing him; he could only groan and twitch.
The Incurable then swept its claws again, catching a second trooper and joining him with the first on the tentacle. Then, the foul beast opened its maw and slid both men into its mouth and chewed, like a shish kebab skewer. The iron crunched loudly as the beast's jaws worked.
"Come on! We can down it!" I exclaimed, rallying the others, who trembled, prepared to run. "We just have to know how to dodge its attack and strike its weak point!"
"That being...?" one asked, watching the Incurable warily, hoping to not be its next meal.
"Next time it flings someone up, they must cut its tentacle," I explained hurriedly, watching the beast finish eating and come for us. "While it's distracted, the rest of us focus on one of its legs and downs it, then we behead it. Ready... go!"
There was no more time to explain the plan; the Incurable was ready for its second course. This time, however, it found resistance; the trooper who allowed himself to get flung was an expert in timing, and his sword hacked the last quarter off the tentacle, his mid-air timing impeccable. As the Incurable roared and stomped in agony, the rest of us converged on its trunk-like left leg, severing the flesh until the beast was forced to its knees. Doing so admittedly made us even easier to reach, so we compensated by retreating to its backside.
"Help me up!" I ordered, as the beast started to turn around in its kneeling position, desperate to keep its scurrying dinner within reach. "I'll get on its back and stab it's neck. It's the fastest way to take it down. Now!"
The others complied, kneeling and locking their hands together to make a platform that I stepped onto, then climbed onto the beast's back. It was not easy maintaining my footing there; the Incurable knew one of the measly little humans was crawling around on its back, and was determined to swipe me off; however, a number of grotesque protrusions on its skin made for good handholds. The Incurable managed to stagger shakily to its feet, trying to twist to throw me off; determined, I climbed the protrusions on its back, then pulled back my sword and dug it deep into the beast's neck, making it jerk. I withdrew my claymore and struck again, severing the nerves between the vertebrae.
I was granted with success; the Incurable gave one last howl, then went limp and fell again, this time completely, its massive, ugly body sprawling as its blood poured onto the fleshy ground. Without a doubt, Kathari scavengers would be on the site within minutes.
"You did it!" one of the troopers, Goran, cheered as I climbed down, sweaty and shaking but exuberant. He raised a fist in the air. "Only two of us were lost to take it down!"
"Hey, you! don't disrespect the dead! Especially the newly dead!" Teragoth, the scarred veteran, snarled, sheathing his sword. "Did you forget that two human lives were lost and we have nothing to bring back to the castle? And you want to celebrate?" He was in the other man's face, spit flying.
"Stand down," I said wearily, noting to keep Teragoth away from newer members in the future; I would have to consult the shift managers. "Just be thankful that most of us survived. We might make another run this evening. Less traffic then."
"Whoa. You're going out here again tomorrow?" the new member said to me in shock and admiration, his eyes wide.
"Can't live without the goods," I said, giving a grim smile, motioning for everyone to follow me. "Just keep it down. The Kathari'll be here any minute, and their ears are as good as their noses."
The rest of the return trip to the hermitage was uneventful, except for the sounds of hungry Katahri swooping down from the sky and tearing chunks of greasy meat from the Incurable's body and gulping them down.
Incurable Ogre* 3R
Creature - Ogre Mutant
*Liberties were taken.