TWO OF A KIND

by Ulquiorra9000

Chapter 1

A light wind picked up, carrying the scent of foul invaders. 18-year-old Morrel lifted his head and sniffed the air, and it was undeniable: another Grixis ogre squad was somewhere nearby, just as he suspected. He walked across the grass alongside his Rhox monk friend Yerkel, whose small, beady eyes were fixed on the forested hills up ahead. Morrel nervously ran a hand through his ear-length blond hair, then fiddled with his glasses, which never seemed to rest straight on his face. Here we go. All right, Morrel, don't let Yerkel leave you in the dust this time! I have earned a Sigil before for my bravery against the invaders. I can't act like a rookie forever.

As though reading Morrel's mind, Yerkel chuckled, a deep grating sound in his leathery neck. "Be calm, Morrel. You have earned that Sigil for good reason. Ever since the dragons and demons and other beasts started invading Bant, we have proven ourselves well before the King. We are warriors of Akrasa. Walk with pride."

"Yeah, like the Grixis vermin care how we look," Morrel joked, but Yerkel had a point. Mere weeks had passed since Bant suddenly collided with four other lands, but already, creatures ranging from bow-slinging elves to short "goblin" creatures to nightmarish undead beasts had invaded Bant and begun a conquest. Strangely, though, the beings of these other worlds seemed only too happy to fight each other, with enormous jungle beasts stomping all over undead monsters, only to be beheaded by a primordial dragon swooping by. This chaotic war demanded an immediate military response from all Bant kingdoms, and the Akrasan Kingdom was only too happy to lead the charge. Noble knights, aven squadrons, Rhox monks, and others took up arms, swore to defend the glory and honor of the Kingdoms and the angels, and then marched to confront the evils from beyond. Their lives were for Bant, and Bant was there for them.

And then there was Morrel and Yerkel, running around catching stray Grixis or Jund marauder squads.

"We're still inexperienced, Morrel. That's why King Ledram has assigned us to such a role," Yerkel offered after a few minutes of Morrel's sullen silence. "We're young and only recently earned Sigils. Besides, the King needs specialized agents like us, those who stand out from the ranks and file squires and foot soldiers. It's an honor! Come on."

"Yeah, I guess," Morrel grumbled, but his young Rhox friend's words evoked mixed feelings in him. As a battlemage of Akrasa, Morrel boasted a wide knowledge of protective and manipulative spells, along with a limited knowledge of healing. Still, his greatest pride was his hand-to-hand ability. Everyone in Bant trained in melee combat from an early age, but Morrel took it more seriously than most. Flexing a fist, he looked down at his battlemage robes, cut short to better fit his melee style. The thing is, I still can't get my style to work! Man, these ogres had better provide good training. I can sense them nearby, but they don't detect Yerkel or I. Shouldn't be too bad.

"These ogres may provide a good chance to practice your... unusual fighting style," Yerkel spoke up as he and Morrel reached the base of the tree-dotted hills. The pristine lakes and grasslands of Akrasa were behind them, as was the castle. "Shouldn't be too hard, right?"

Morrel jumped. "Man, how do you do that?"

"Do what?" Yerkel picked at a spot on his right hand to distract himself.

"It's like you read my mind, always saying what I'm thinking."

"Well," Yerkel huffed with what passed for a grin on his rhino face, "That's just 'cause I know you that well, Morrel." The following thump on the back nearly staggered the human battlemage, and Yerkel helped his friend get back to his feet.

The ogres were now in sight, the marauders hunting for fresh meat to tear apart and devour. Morrel crept through the trees with Yerkel at his side, the Rhox moving more fluidly and silently than one would expect. Morrel's booted feet gently navigated the woods, not snapping a twig as he went. The ogres up ahead wandered past a well, the smelly Grixis creatures grunting and glancing at it, disappointed that it didn't do anything. A nearby abandoned scout tower stood silent, its golden stone surface reflecting the bright sun overhead.

Morrel squinted at the ogres. The brawny, misshapen beasts ambled along, their clawed hands clutching spiked clubs and crude swords of varying sizes. They looked hungry, since their eyes kept glancing this way and that for prey, their long canines dripping saliva. Disgusted, Morrel reached into his white battlemage cloak and gripped the handle of a throwing knife, eager to rid his homeland of the foul invaders. He had smelled them from a way off, and now was the time to do something about it... as soon as Yerkel was ready.

"Ready?" Morrel whispered to his Rhox friend as the ogres ambled by, but Yerkel didn't say a word. Instead, he knelt and pressed both hands together and bowed his head, eyes closed. "Angels above and kings below, give me the strength to rid my land of those unworthy, and bring honor to my home and my people. Grace me with your strength so I may see another day in your service."

Morrel had grown a little tired of praying to the angels before fighting such pea-brained outlander foes as the Grixis ogres and Jund berserkers, but there was no helping it. He too recited the prayer and then he and Yerkel locked gazes and nodded their readiness.

Deciding to start at a distance, Morrel stood upright and tossed his cloak back, revealing the many throwing knives held in there. He grasped one in each hand, focusing on possible trajectories to the ogres. He was tempted to infuse his knives with magic, but he didn't want to strain himself early in the battle, and he sometimes struggled with magic-infused knife throwing anyway. So, he took a step forward and drew back his left arm, then grunted as he threw the silvery knife, the blade flashing through the air.

The knife whooshed past the lead ogre, almost grazing its nose. Then, the knife burrowed halfway into the ground past the ogre, and the sudden movement alerted the whole group of the ambush.

"Crap! Missed!" Morrel berated himself.

"Worry not! We still have an advantage over them!" Yerkel rebuked as the ogres bellowed in hunger and scrambled for the hills to climb up and tear apart the Bant defenders. Shaking his head, Morrel let Yerkel leap into action, then darted to the side and raised his right knife for throwing. One of the ogres, carrying a spiked club, roared and approached him, so Morrel smirked at the beast and twirled around, to use his momentum and speed up his right knife. With a flash of silver, the knife pierced the ogre's right shoulder, a blow that cut muscle and disabled the right arm. Morrel halted himself, admiring his handiwork, until the ogre huffed and took up the club in its left arm, waving the weapon with a snarl.

"What? You're ambidextrous?" Morrel yelped as the ogre pounced, club descending for the kill. Morrel saw the club descend, then he flicked his cloak back and crouched, breathing deep as he bunched up his leg muscles for action. His glasses slid uncomfortably down his nose, but he tried to ignore that as the club came closer, every instant feeling like forever. Then, snapping into motion at the right time, Morrel pushed off to the side, and in the same movement, stood upright next to the ogre, his arms sliding onto its tough club arm. With a sudden lurch and channeling of strength, Morrel lifted the ogre off its feet, diverting its attack momentum to its own body.

How's that? Use your own energy against you! Morrel grinned as he flung the ogre and forced it into an awkward forward somersault, a move that would normally smash its head into the ground. Instead, Morrel flipped through the air, positioning himself under the ogre as it moved through the air. His booted foot shot up, catching the beast on its chin, jerking its head upwards with a nasty crunch. Morrel thought the beast was finished, but it had some fight left in it. Morrel had left himself open by adding his own attack to the defensive move, and the ogre's spiked club came back faster than the Bant battlemage expected. Hot pain burst on Morrel's left haunch as the spiked gouged him, and Morrel shouted and felt hot blood ooze onto his clothing, forcing him to his knees. The ogre collapsed in a heap on the ground, unable to press the attack.

"Morrel!" Yerkel shouted in concern, seeing his friend's plight. He was surrounded by two ogres, but he ducked under the blade of one of them, then he crouched and spun in place, his thick hoof sweeping the other ogre off its feet. Then, he bolted forward and slammed an open palm onto the ogre's face, the incredible power shuddering the air. The ogre's face was crushed and split into organic shreds, the defeated beast falling to the ground and tumbling down the hillside.

"I'm fine! And not bad, by the way!" Morrel shouted back, clutching a hand to his throbbing wound. Gritting his teeth, Morrel jumped and did a long back flip through the air, trying not to aggravate his wound as he went. He landed by his ogre foe, which was trying to get back up. Morrel channeled his inner mana into his left hand, then imitated Yerkel's finishing move by slamming his left palm onto the ogre's head with great force, smashing the beast's head off entirely. Best to behead the invaders to make sure they don't rise again.

Morrel stood, gasping for breath as sweat soaked into his clothing. He hurriedly adjusted his glasses again, cursing their refusal to sit properly on his face. Shifting his feet into a balanced posture, Morrel kept his eyes on the few remaining ogres. However, the Grixis invaders had another surprise up their sleeve.

"Maybe it's time I try this," a disembodied voice sneered, and the air shimmered as a cloaked being warped into view. Morrel gasped: the gaunt human man wore thick, spiky black armor that sent chills down Morrel's spine, and the cackling man gave an aura of terrorizing, deathly magic. No doubt he was a battlemage of Grixis, Morrel figured. Leaping back into action, Morrel swept his hands into his cloak and flung one knife after another at the battlemage, hoping to take the man's heart out. The first knife sliced into the man's chest, making him howl and fall to his knees, clutching at the wound and leaning on his staff for support. Encouraged, Morrel took a step closer and flung another knife, but the blade was intercepted by something unseen between Morrel and the mage. The Grixis battlemage grimaced as he extended his hand, blue magic at work while he removed the knife with his other hand. Then, the air shimmered and the Grixis mage unveiled a new ogre that had been concealed.

"Very nice, boy. I didn't think you'd force me to use my trump card," the battlemage growled. "I'm no ordinary battlemage. My ogres will tear you apart! Ogres! Get them!"

The new ogre gave Morrel a bad feeling. Rather than the mud-colored brutes around it, this thing gave off an air of brutal efficiency and prowess. Its skin was absent, its hard muscles and bones visible. Eternal flames raged inside its gut and jetted out from short tubes on the monster's back, and its entire head glowed with flames, its eyes bright. In addition to its long, burly arms, a third arm extended from the beast's left shoulder, giving it three arms total for combat superiority. The ogre growled a deep warning and flexed its three hands, black claws clacking together.

Yerkel sensed the danger, too. Though he had taken a hit from an ogre blade, he avoided an attack and smashed the head of another ogre with his strong hands. He charged after the fire ogre, but the new beast didn't wait for him to arrive.

The Fire-Field Ogre bellowed and charged right at Morrel, legs pumping to propel it swiftly across the grass. Tensing for combat, Morrel waited only a second before he took up his last two knives and hurled them at the approaching ogre. The beast snapped its jaws and, without even slowing down, whipped its claws through the air and knocked the knives aside, metal clanging on talon. Morrel used the knives only as a ruse, though: he pumped himself with a lightness spell, and then vaulted far overhead, soaring over the startled ogre's head and descended for a high-power blow.

"Not so fast," the Grixis mage retorted, raising his hands. He flung a crackling red-purple spell at Morrel, and the evil magic washed over him, making his body suddenly feel heavy and awkward. No! What did that Grixis mage do? Unable to coordinate himself, Morrel clumsily fell to the earth, trying to land next to the ogre instead of on top of it. He landed and tumbled away from the beast, but its three arms flashed through the air, talons getting close to Morrel's flesh. Its claws tore into his clothing and cloak with loud rips, the beast's claws moving at lightning speed.

Yerkel huffed with fatigue, but he wasn't about to give up. He grabbed one of the Fire-Field Ogre's fingers and snapped it, letting the creature howl before kicking it away. The other, ordinary ogre came up from behind, so Yerkel slammed his elbow into its face, demolishing it and sending the ogre flying. Seeing Morrel in danger, Yerkel hurried forth, eyes alert.

"Whew. Cover me, will you?" Morrel gritted, staggering to his feet just as the Fire-Field Ogre charged again. This time, Morrel breathed deep and forced himself to be calm as his wound throbbed, reading into the ogre's attack pattern as the beast started swinging. Morrel twisted, ducked, and side-stepped as the ogre's three sets of claws slashed through the air, but it took all of Morrel's speed and nerves to evade the rapid attacks. The ogre's upper left arm slashed through the air, trying to take off Morrel's head. Morrel saw the attack coming and, slipping away from a different arm's attack, seized the upper left arm and forced the whole ogre forward, shifting its attack range away from Morrel. Then, Morrel jumped into the air again, using his momentum to wrench the ogre's upper left arm at a strange angle, and the loud crack of bones reported his success.

The ogre howled and flailed, angered by its injury. Its fist swung at Morrel harder than he could handle, and Morrel could only raise his crossed arms to block, his bones shuddering from the ogre's punch. He flew backwards, sprawling across the grass once again. Yerkel was just in time, though, to kick the ogre in the haunch, making it stumble and occupying its attention.

"You three have angered me enough! Use maximum power!" the Grixis mage barked at his ogre servant. The ogre snapped its jaws and opened its mouth wide just as the Grixis mage used his red-purple spell again, making Morrel and Yerkel fall to their feet from sudden new weight. Morrel couldn't dodge as the ogre issued a stream of hot fire right at him, so he resorted to a different tactic.

Morrel raised his hands before him. "Hearts of light, seas of darkness, angels high, beasts below, shield me from this harm!" Just in time, a shining blue-gold barrier flared to life, the round magical shield hovering right in front of Morrel. The ogre's fire collided with it, washing over the barrier and causing it to strain and spit sparks. Morrel held his hands steady to maintain the barrier, and though the effort tired his arms, the fires faded away and the shield shone bright. Morrel dispelled the shield, quickly giving himself a mind heal spell for his left haunch's wound before dashing away to retrieve his thrown knives.

"Your shield has improved!" Yerkel noticed as he and the ogre exchanged fierce blows.

"Yeah, thanks," Morrel gritted as he seized a knife and heaved it out of the ground. He scurried over to another knife embedded in the dirt, hurriedly brushing off the dirt and grass on the sharp silver blade. One of the minor ogres was still alive, and it crept closer to Yerkel, who was exchanging fierce blows with the Fire-Field Ogre. In response, Morrel hefted his knives and took careful aim, then with two tosses, he planted the knives in the ogre's neck, slashing right through its spine and windpipe. The ogre, caught by surprise, slumped to the ground, inert.

Yerkel only spared an instant to take note of the lesser ogre's death. The Fire-Field Ogre's attacks were relentless, even with only two good arms left. Morrel hurried to join his friend, but the Grixis mage weaved another spell and once again had both Morrel and Yerkel immobilized by deathly stun magic. The Fire-Field Ogre pounced on Morrel, jaws and claws outstretched for the kill. Feeling hot blood pumping in his ears, Morrel raised his arms to defend himself, but the ogre bashed aside his defenses and raked Morrel's already-injured haunch, aggravating the wound and making Morrel cry out in pain.

The ogre's claws descended for the killing blow, but with a surge of adrenaline and mana, Morrel fought through the Grixis mage's spell and tumbled to the side, producing one last knife: not a throwing type, but a simple dagger. Calling upon fire magic that he had gleaned from the otherworldly mages, Morrel threw the dagger at maximum strength, and infused it with explosive fire power as it went. The Grixis mage, taken aback, shouted as the knife pierced his heart and exploded in fierce flames, blasting his body into cinders. The ogre hesitated, whipping around to see the source of the commotion.

"Raaaaaah!" Yerkel came up from behind the Fire-Field Ogre and seized the Grixis monster's head, wrenching it at a sharp angle. With a crack, the ogre's head was nearly broken off, dark blood oozing from its torn flesh. With a final gurgle, the ogre collapsed, its hideous body sprawling.

Heaving a weary sigh, Morrel sat on the grass, wincing and clapping a hand to his bleeding wound. Yerkel knelt by him, checking it too.

"Here. Just a little something until I can get you back," the Rhox promised, and he placed a gray hand over Morrel's wound, green-white magic glowing to life. Morrel felt the pain melt away as Yerkel's healing spell soothed the flesh, enough to let Morrel walk back to safe territory. Morrel had refused a mount for this trip, preferring to walk beside his friend. Maybe I'll get a Leotau next time!

*o*o*o*o*

"Relax, Morrel. It really isn't that bad," Yerkel admonished Morrel an hour later, as he went to collect bandages in a drawer in his small marble monastery. Morrel sat on the Rhox's wide bed, stripped to the waist for treatment. Inside the one-room building were few furnishing except a bed, a desk, and a cabinet for scrolls and medical supplies, and Yerkel was the only occupant of this tiny monastery/house. Morrel looked down at his ghastly, recently-disinfected wound and gulped. "You consider this minor?"

Yerkel collected a role of white bandages, his own minor wounds already tended to. "Sure. I've seen much worse since this war with the other worlds started. The monsters from beyond are powerful and relentless, and they don't observe our honor or discipline. A nasty business."

"You know 'cause you're training to be a big-time medic, right?" Morrel grinned.

Yerkel unwound some bandages from the roll, blinking in the golden sunlight that poured through the glass-less windows. "You don't have to put it so casually, but yes. It's how I plan to make a difference to defend Akrasa and indeed, all of Bant. But I won't forget my role as a fighter either, nor will I forget you, Morrel. We're two of a kind, you and I."

What passed for a grin crossed the Rhox's face, and Morrel mirrored it until Yerkel started wrapping the bandages, the pressure on the wound making Morrel gasp. Morrel tried to relax, cursing his sensitive skin. "Thanks, Yerkel, but you're way ahead of me."

"Oh, yeah?" Yerkel focused on tending his friend, but his ears perked up all the same.

"I don't have much to offer besides some punching and kicking, you know. I became a battlemage 'cause I'm clumsy with weapons and not that great a healer or scholar."

Yerkel's eyes were stern as he looked up, pausing the bandage-wrapping. "Not this again, Morrel. Don't underrate yourself."

"Even with Raphael around, showing off?" Morrel retorted bracingly, and Yerkel relented at the mention of Morrel's prodigious elder brother. Yerkel resumed his bandaging. "Come on, Morrel. I can't know what it's like to always live in someone's shadow, but caving in is certainly not the way to go about it. King Ledram needs you as much as he needs anyone else. You and I are young. Our time will come."

"I... guess," Morrel admitted. "Still, Raphael's only five years older than me, but is one of the King's top agents! Few battlemages have ever equaled him."

"Have you considered taking your Journey of Souls early?" Yerkel offered.

Morrel twitched at the mention of that tradition. At the age of 21, any Bant warrior or mage wanting to prove him or herself worthy of the King would go on a long trek, helping those in need and gaining much knowledge and power to serve the Kingdom. Raphael had taken his at age 14, one of many ways he proved himself an exceptional battlemage. Morrel had been formulating plans for his, but to take it early like his brother had? "I see. Well, we do live in dire times. This could be a chance to prove myself."

Yerkel's face mirrored Morrel's sudden excited grin as he finished the bandaging. "That's the spirit, Morrel. Listen, why don't you ask King Ledram about it when you're ready?"

Morrel gingerly got to his feet, testing his freshly-bandaged wound. It was still sore, but didn't hurt as much. He twisted on his torso, testing his limits. "Sure thing. I'll give a few days for this to heal over, and I'll inquire about it."

*o*o*o*o*

The sun sank low on the horizon, casting its orange-red light across Bant's war-torn surface. Aven lazily glided on the air currents, clutching their spears tight as they warily scanned the land for intruders with their sharp eyesight. Morrel, meanwhile, had taken a Leotau-driven carriage to one of the towns near the Akrasa Castle, one of his favorite haunts with many clubs, dueling rings, taverns, and comfortable lodgings. Morrel had more than a few friends here, and the outdoor bars offered great places to glean information from traders and paladins and squires who were resting from a hard day's fighting. One open-aired bar was Morrel's favorite, and that's where he went. On the inside roof was the severed arm of a Grixis monster, a trophy mounted for display.

"It seems like the best we can do is slow the monsters down. They're coming closer to our borders all the time," one paladin grumbled as he drank from his mug, his face hardening in displeasure.

"Ah, I wouldn't worry. This is our chance to earn more than a few new Sigils, after all. We have the angels' blessing in this war. No undead creep from that death-land can take us down," his friend encouraged him.

Morrel set down his drink, ears perking. "Is there more trouble on the border with the zombies?"

"Yes, Morrel. Much trouble," the paladin answered irritably, a white scar on his forehead proving his worth. He knew Morrel because he knew Raphael. Everyone knew Raphael. "How have your duties been?"

"Oh, patrolling, taking down Grixis and Jund infiltration squads. They sure can get far into our territory, slipping though the chaos," Morrel shrugged. "Not much else."

"Well, there is more. It's her," the paladin growled. "She's been seen around her, the specter-girl."

Morrel blinked. According to rumor, there were some people who wielded the power to walk from one land to another in a short amount of time. Not from Akrasa to Eos to Valeron, but entirely different worlds, different planes of existence. Recently, a girl in tattered black clothing started to crop up in Akrasa and the other Kingdoms, evading others but causing much trouble everywhere she went, often stealing and plundering. It was suspected that she was a plane-walker or Planeswalker, and that she could be anywhere, doing anything, and could strike at any moment. Or so others led Morrel to believe. She had been sighted in other towns nearby, but Morrel doubted he'd ever see her. Better to focus on my Journey of Souls, Morrel figured, taking another chug of his drink. He tried to glean more useful news from the others in the bar and the streets, but didn't meet with much success. As it got late, he figured he'd get back to the castle and hit the hay. Leaving several coins for the bartender, Morrel stepped away from the open-air bar and onto the cobble-stone street.

A sudden roar made him and everyone else freeze.

"Yeeeee-ho!" someone roared, and civilians shrieked and fled as something huge crashed into the bar Morrel had just left, the creature smashing the wooden building into splinters and glass shards that flew everywhere. Panicking, Morrel dived for cover behind a cart, peeking over the edge. A gigantic, purple-gray beetle climbed over the ruined bar, the insect at least three stories high and its armored legs and body easily crushing buildings underfoot. A shaman rode atop the beetle's back, bearing fierce war paint and gripping leather harnesses that connected to the huge beetle's mouth. At his shout, dozens of barbarian warriors swarmed around the buildings, raising clubs, axes, and brandishing fire-magic, spreading chaos and destruction everywhere.

Not again! Morrel thought bracingly. That giant insect, those brute warriors... a raiding party from Jund! They must be looking for easy prey. I've got to get away!

A stray fire bolt from a Jund mage blasted Morrel's cart apart, however, forcing him to tumble away and into the open. Warriors took up their swords and shields to repel the Jund invaders, but the giant beetle screeched and ambled into the street, sweeping its pincers in wide arcs and sending people flying. The insect bellowed and opened its mandibles, a jet of flame issuing from the insect's mouth. No doubt Jund mages had enchanted it for increased battle strength, and Morrel stared in horror as the whole town was set ablaze by the insect while the Jund warriors ransacked the place. Noble Akrasan warriors crossed blades with the Jund invaders, slewing many of them until getting overwhelmed. Morrel counted more than thirty of the Jund warriors, as opposed to only a handful of the Akrasan defenders, and there was still that beetle to consider.

"Hang on!" Morrel shouted to a frightened woman and her children, ushering them away. He turned back around to see a Jund Warrior with an elaborate headdress and loincloth lung at him, battle-ax raised for the kill. The warrior was fast, but Morrel snapped into a combat posture, watching the barbarian's movements and figuring out the best angle to counter. With a shout, the barbarian's swung his ax down, and Morrel fluidly slipped past the attack and ran his hands along the ax's length, wrenching it out of the barbarian's hands with the same movement. The barbarian, caught by surprise, was sent reeling by a head-bash with the ax's shaft, and Morrel twirled the weapon in his hands, trying to decide if he wanted to use it.

Nah. Too blunt. Morrel tossed the ax aside, but there was no more time to waste. The beetle went on a rampage, smashing into buildings and erupting fire on anyone who came close, friend or foe. Morrel found himself surrounded by three Jund warriors, forcing him to block the nearest warrior's blows and counter with his own attacks, but his combined defensive-offensive strategy fared poorly against numerous enemies. A barbarian's ax slammed Morrel's knee, driving him to the ground. Before he had his head taken off, though, Morrel dived out of the way, his aching leg and haunch slowing him down a little. Reaching into his cloak for his knives, Morrel heaved two knives at the warriors as they tried to attack again. He always carried his knives with him, just in case, and now he was quite grateful for his habit. One hastily-thrown knife missed, but the other cut into a warrior's neck, toppling the warrior with blood gushing form his neck.

"Come on!" Morrel challenged them, choosing to abandon his defensive style for now. He met the warriors' challenge head-on, scrambling to his feet and exchanging hand-to-hand blows. One warrior tried to swing an uppercut, so Morrel deflected with his left and countered with a right hook, knocking his enemy's head aside. Morrel spun in a kick, taking down that warrior with a foot to his chest and then slugged the other warrior's gut with a hard punch. Both men went down, but the beetle was now coming Morrel's way, and more Jund warriors closed in from both sides of the street, blocking off Morrel's exits. The beetle tossed back its head and roared, flames flowing from its mouth.

"Oh, this isn't good," Morrel muttered to himself, fixing his skewed glasses to a better position while he tried to contemplate a way out of this. He got out two throwing knives and set himself in a posture with a low center of gravity, but he realized that a number of civilians were trapped here too, frightened and helpless.

"Okay, who wants to die first?" an important-looking Jund warrior asked gleefully, stepping from the ranks of his fellows to torment the cowering civilians. Morrel wanted to help, but he'd be overwhelmed. Better to wait for reinforcements, but how long would that take? Morrel winced as a farmer was impaled by the chief's dagger, and then the chief seized two women by their dresses. One of them had a hood, concealing her face. "Maybe these wenches can come with me to provide some entertainment! I think we all have deserved it, huh?" the chief declared, and his warriors shouted their approval, waving their weapons. Morrel couldn't stand the sight, but he had to wait.

"Oh, never mind. Burn down the town! Drag along any women you want!" the chief declared, then tried to drag the two women with him. One was a young brunette who only cried for help, but the other one seized the chief's arm with her left arm, apparently with a strong grip. The Jund war chief looked started, unable to get from the woman's grip. "Hey! What are you -"

He was cut off when the woman's right arm suddenly changed. The Jund warriors looked on, then scattered with alarm as one of the woman threw back her hood and her arm outstretched rapidly, growing in size and length. Her right hand and arm expanded to become gigantic and black with curving white talons, enough to scoop up multiple people at once. The arm was long and thick as well to accommodate the hand.

With a cry and a toss of long black hair, the young woman raised her giant right hand and swept away the Jund chief like a rag doll, throwing him into a flaming building with a crash. Morrel stared in amazement as the young woman shouted and pounced on the other Jund warriors, swinging her giant right hand with her claws out stretched. The talons raked the Jund warriors, hacking them into pieces as the woman nimbly leaped about, evading return fire. The huge black hand deflected any attack that came close, then smashed away the attacking warriors.

Morrel gaped, his knives feeling heavy in his hands. Who the... who is she? How can she take on all those Jund warriors? Then, the woman took down a few more Jund warriors and ran to the giant beetle, vaulting high into the air to take off the insect's head. The beetle rumbled and raised a scythe-like front leg, clashing heavily with the woman's giant black hand, claw and chitinous scythe struggling in midair. The woman gripped the beetle's limb tight, talons digging into the armor and tearing the beetle's limb off with a gush of blood. Morrel found himself cheering at the her victory, but she was unprepared for the beetle's other scythe-leg slashing through the air, smashing the woman out of the sky and sending her tumbling to the stone street, coming to a halt near Morrel.

The beetle wasn't done yet. Lurching forward on its remaining limbs, the monster roared and spread its mandibles apart, gushing a stream of hot fire at its injured prey. Reciting the incantation for the Hindering Light shield, Morrel crouched by the injured young woman, raising his gold-blue shield just in time. The insect's fire washed over the shield and was diverted to the sides, unable to get close. The fires abated and Morrel lowered the shield, trying to help the woman to his or her feet. "Hey. Can you get up? Come on..."

The person was rather light and was face-down, but as Morrel lifted the person upwards, he beheld that it was a girl around his age, her long black hair askew and her eyes closed. She was knocked out! Morrel shook her, noting how her giant right hand didn't feel heavy at all as he tried to lift her to her feet. "Wake up! We're still in danger!"

The girl moaned, then snapped open her somewhat narrow eyes, which gleamed a hard light upon seeing Morrel's concerned face in hers. She pushed him away with her normal left hand, standing to her feet and backing away from him. "I don't need your help!" she demanded., raising her huge right hand again. "Get away before you're hurt!"

"But I -" Morrel started, before the giant beetle attacked again, slashing its remaining scythe-arm at the girl from behind. Without hesitation, Morrel flung his two knives at the beetle's limb, clapping his hands together as he channeled fire magic into them. The knives pinged off the beetle's hard carapace, but the explosions knocked the limb aside. In response, the beetle lurched forward again and leaned forward for a high-speed headbutt, its hard round head coming close very fast. Morrel didn't have time to dodge, but the girl was there to help, her giant right hand seizing the insect's head and holding it at bay, much to the beetle rider's anger. "What the hell! Don't freeze up, you worm, or you're dead meat!" the girl roared, twisting her head back to yell at Morrel. He felt himself bristle, then walked forward. "That's some way to thank me for helping you earlier!"

The girl narrowed her eyes, then turned back to the beetle as it struggled against the girl's huge strength. With a shout, she clutched her giant hand tight, her fingers and white talons squishing the beetle's head into pulp. With a last screech, the beetle collapsed heavily to the street, its huge weight shuddering the ground. With a cry of alarm, the rider and surviving warriors fled, not wanting to clash with the battlemage and girl who took down so many warriors and the beetle. They scampered out of town just as emergency forces arrived, water-wielding mages who doused the buildings' flames.

Morrel shakily fell to one knee, his body weary and sweaty. He looked up at the girl as she shrank her right arm and hand back to normal. "Thanks for helping me back there. You've got quite some power! Wait..."

Recognition sparked in Morrel's mind as he gawked at the girl, remembering the wanted posters. Could she be the renegade plane-walker everyone's talking about? No way! He didn't have any more time to think, though. She pursed her lips and seized his clothing, holding him tight as she leaped into a back alley where there was no flame and no one could see. She pressed him against the wall of a tavern, face-to-face with a startled Morrel. "You may have saved my life, but if you don't help me get away, I'll have to kill you!" she threatened him.

Morrel gulped as he tried to think of a good answer. Oh, man. Today just keeps getting more and more exciting!

*o*o*o*o*

Cards in this chapter... Plains (Michael Komark), Bant Battlemage, Rhox War Monk, Grixis Sojourners, Grixis Battlemage, Fire-Field Ogre, Hindering Light, Giant Ambush Beetle, Rip-Clan Crasher

A/N: It feels good to be writing Magic: the Gathering fanfiction again! Magic Chronicles was finished not that long ago, but writing about Magic is great fun for me, and this story is all planned out and will be a great yarn. I've noticed that many Magic fighters use spells or summons or weapons, but not a not of melee combat. I plan to change that, and make good old fist fighting an integral part of this story, though that other stuff will still be here in spades!