Into the Void
The void is timeless, infinite, tangential with reality but not bounded by it. It is blind, yet contains vision within itself, in isolated pockets of stardust hemmed in by its eternity. Those few who manage to break through the confining stitches find that vision is a useless organ, for the void is neither physical nor spiritual, but something altogether different. It is the silence at the end of all things, and the anticipation of the music by which all things begin. Gods did not create it, though a few have walked its paths. Time cannot destroy it, for the void is outside of time, and linear continuity contains itself within those few outposts of existence amenable to its influence. That interaction with the void which transports us from one plane to another we refer to as a planeswalk, though the term is somewhat fallacious. It cannot properly be described as a "walk," for the physical action of walking is not possible in the void. Neither is "plane" a truthful descriptor of the infinite realities that exist within its bounds outside the physical construct of space, overlapping and permeating and all present at once. When we speak of a planeswalk, what we mean can best be elucidated as a transaction with unreality which has the effect of conveying us between two dimensions by means of a temporary cessation of existence.
-S. Markov, Treatise on the Metaphysicalities of Planeswalking
When Sorin Markov was first catapulted headlong into the Blind Eternities, he should have liked to have a book. Or perhaps a scroll, a datapad, a compilation of knowledge in a form recognizable in some universe, to explain what was happening to him and why his body had disappeared. But no such book existed at the time, so he had to make do.
In the nebulous black around him, a hundred thousand realities in a riot of colors forced themselves on his perception all at once. It is not fair to say he saw them, for in the pure consciousness of his existence, he did not did not have form, nor eyes. He did not have legs, yet he moved; the terrified confusion of his intent tossed him about in the extradimensional maelstrom and yanked him haphazardly through space. Entire universes passed by as he struggled to orient himself by the self which the void had obliterated.
He remembered Edgar, doubled over in pain, pointing a bony finger at him and ordering him to drink from the profane silver bowl steeped to the brim in Idalene's blood. He remembered the demon's slitted sulfur-yellow eyes, the rusted taste of blood in his mouth and the fiery agony wracking his body. But Edgar didn't vanish. Sorin had seen him, curled up like a child on the grass near the altar with his teeth gritted and hands white-knuckle clenched. Edgar was still there in that godsforsaken mountain valley, while Sorin was—where? Not a world, certainly not his world, ripped from his body and tossed into space. Unless Edgar had meant for this to happen all along, unless Edgar were here too, a few minutes behind him, lost in the same vortex of oblivion and unreality.
Had Sorin been an ordinary sentient creature, being ripped from the physical world alone would have broken his mind. As it was, he tried to rationalize. To his old understanding of things, there were two worlds, physical and spiritual, separated by a veil, and nothing else beside; but the void with its twisting whorls of indescribable star-crossed color was a world all its own, one his understanding could never have anticipated. At any rate, the spiritual world was inhabited by gods, spirits, and the souls of the dead, and here he was alone, neither body, nor spirit, nor soul. Completely alone, yet surrounded on all sides by worlds and their masses of inhabitants seething and roiling, alive and not, deafening and silent and churning in vast, amorphous darkness.
Perhaps, and he panicked to think it, Shilgengar was right. The demon's rasping voice grated in his mind where Sorin had dropped his guard and let him in, the sounds guttural and inhuman and cloaked in suffocating red fumes. Edgar had set him up, he was the sacrifice, the snarling brimstone whispers had snared his soul and dragged him down to hell. But hell was a spiritual plane, and the Ashmouth its physical gateway. Humans had been to hell. Spirits could be summoned from it. The place outside of place where Sorin found himself was empty of physical forms and the ambient hum of spiritual energy, save for the tumbling motes of color reflecting whole existences that fluttered against the dark.
It dawned on him slowly that his attempts to ape physical movement weren't getting him anywhere. His parochial notions of normalcy, bound by the laws of a single, insignificant world, held no sway in the void. His consciousness drifted across eternity, and as he floundered, the illusions of his old life cracked at the edges and shattered into dust. His world was not discrete, not even a fraction, much less the sum, of universal creation. The town priest used to tell him the world was the greatest of the jewels in the Creator's crown, and outside the lesser jewels of moon, sun, and stars, the universe was empty. It was one of the first lessons he had learned at temple, the wooden pew pressing into his back as he and the other town children were indoctrinated in what passed for truth. He hadn't believed it then, but the learned exceptionalism of his insignificant world revealed itself for a bald-faced lie before the vastness of space.
Intent alone moved him by halting fractions, but he didn't know where to go. His world was far away, and the different, strange realities tossed around him like varicolored pages torn from an ancient and indecipherable book. A blasted landscape, hellish and fuming, lingered for a moment and was ripped out of sight into the void. A world-city, teeming with creatures and technologies he could never have imagined, flashed before his eyes and was gone. A jungle world filled with the wreckage of battle, an ice-bound world nurturing the beginnings of life, an arid planet with a lake of black mana and a screaming prison of the dead, all perceived for a fractal, visceral moment and vanished.
A paradise fluttered before him, all twilight stained-glass and rose-perfumed out of the vortex. Its lavish gardens overflowed with fluted rainbow petals twined about the knotted trunks of dark chocolate trees and spilling jasmine nectar onto the dewy grass. Sweeping palaces of rose-tinted stone with long balconies overarching a crystal-blue sea blinded him with incomprehensible beauty, the myriad colors of a thousand forest-encircled edifices blurring like running paint before his sight. If Sorin had been conscious of his form in the formless dark, he would have extended a hand towards the entrancing vista with awe-struck reverence. He tried anyway, an obliterated moth before a dazzling flame, stretching out with his extinguished body to touch the spark of loveliness.
But the void, though nonsentient, had other plans. It jerked him back and he thrashed in panic, tumbled sightlessly, clawed instinctively at white mana for protection in the unfamiliar tempest. He fell, flailed, fought the inexorable pull of the whirlwind tearing at his consciousness, as space howled around him and threatened to rip him apart. Colors rushed by in a blur, something that was neither energy nor any recognizable force dragged him headlong beyond his control, and released him with careless abandon to tumble through the dark.
Colors exploded across his vision as he broke through into existence, tearing across the thin membrane separating a world, one of many, from the surrounding black. Reality exuberantly shattered the pall of emptiness with light, and air, and feelings he could name and identify. Wind, blue sky, and carded-cotton clouds surrounded him. White plains and gentle hills rolled out beneath him as far as the eye could see.
He was somewhere, that much was clear. The void was behind him, and physical direction made sense of what he saw. Most of the scene that met his eyes was even familiar, not that much different from the farmlands of Gavony before the autumn harvest, when golden wheat stalks would ripple ripe in the wind before the threshing. But he was still formless, and his conscious mind remained trapped outside his body. Hovering above the vast fields of gently swaying golden grass, his solitude was terrible, his hopelessness a void of its own as he struggled fruitlessly to command himself and gain stock of his new surroundings. In the windy silence of a world he didn't know, the light puffs of breeze stirring across Sorin's non-entity bore sibilant witness to his efforts; he strained to reach white mana and form the words to cast spells, but nothing came. He could feel the magical power in the soil, its warm white aura a calm pulse just outside his reach, slipping from his grasp with maddening frustration.
"Poor dear, this is your first time, isn't it?"
A burst of blinding light followed in the echoes of the lovely, soothing voice from across the sky, as a resplendent angel materialized in the empty firmament. Her outspread wings eclipsed the sun and rippled the light around her, casting ruffled pinioned shadows on the grass. Her long gold hair shone brilliantly as it tumbled over the white, gilt-edged gossamer folds of her dress, shivering faintly in the disturbance of her apparition. Pure white energy crackled in the air around her, and the fine features and open kindness of her face were cast in a halo by the backdrop of the sun. Sorin couldn't be sure how he heard her; the language was strange to him, but the intent of her words resonated.
"Have you figured out how to manipulate your form yet?" The dulcet tones of her voice resonated softly in the clear air, white-feathered wings arching in sweeping beats to hold her aloft. Sorin didn't know how to respond, but the jumbled confusion of his thoughts projected his answer.
She waved him forward with one graceful, white-robed arm. "Come down to the ground. I'll show you."
Sorin froze for a minute, then remembered to will himself to the earth. Golden grasses rippled around him, and the glowing gold sun cast a warm light on his formlessness. He wasn't sure how she saw him with his absent body, or how she knew anything about his travels through the void, but there wasn't anyone else to help him and she seemed knowledgeable enough. She watched his struggles hovering just off the earth, her kindly gaze patient.
"It's all intent," she said. "Remember what you looked like before? Hold onto that image and will yourself back to it. What you are—your will can shape worlds."
He had been tall. Scrawny from the famine, with ribs poking out under the paper-white skin of his chest, and his face hollow and sharp-angled with want. Whitish blonde hair long enough to tie back at the nape of his neck, falling over the shoulders of his long black overcoat falling over the leathery brown ankles of his boots. Around his neck, the cool silver chain of his aegis, and the charged and buzzing ruby on his chest a nexus of magical power. Focus. Shape the world.
He started as he opened his eyes. A calm breeze ruffled the tail of his coat and grazed against his face, air passed in and out of his nose at intervals, and his two lanky, booted legs pushed his body up off the earth. But beneath the familiar touch of cotton on the skin of his chest, beneath the calming aura of his aegis, a niggling certainty of wrong crawled inside his skull. On the backs of his hands, peach-colored skin had blanched to chalk white. Far in the distance, the brown and white pinions of a yellow-taloned bird were visible, each and every feather in silhouette against the blinding sun, at such a precipitous height as to make sight ludicrous. The most peculiar, intoxicating scent in his nose, and a rhythmic ringing in his ears and hunger, so deep and gnawing in the pit of his stomach that his thoughts were clouded and fixated on the beautiful angel and her softly stirring pulse.
"You—" her halting voice fractured the stillness. "You weren't human, were you?"
No reason to panic, just a few mistakes on the body reconstruction. Deep breaths. "Yes," he shivered. "I was, actually."
"I've never seen any humans like you. Are you sure that's what you looked like?"
"No." He held his palms in front of his face and turned them over. "I tried to bring myself back, and this is what came out."
Her eyes were golden like the fields of tall grass, and they looked at him full of concern. "I'd like to help you. There aren't a lot of us, you know, and I wish I'd had someone to help me on my first planeswalk."
"Your first what?" He hadn't meant to snap. Even his voice sounded strange; it resonated louder and deeper in his throat. "Surely you can't also.." he trailed off.
"I can travel between worlds, as you can." The curve of one fine-boned hand indicated his reconstituted form in a calming gesture. "It's difficult when one of us discovers his or her powers. It tends toward unpredictability, and it's almost always messy."
"What powers, exactly?" Notes of weariness and irritation tinged his voice.
"Put simply, access to the Blind Eternities."
"Is that what it's called? That space with the emptiness and the falling?"
"Yes, but it's not empty," she smiled. "We refer to the space between planes as the Blind Eternities, and it contains mana and aether. You just planeswalked through the Blind Eternities from your homeworld, and wound up here."
"So this power," he restated, "It lets me travel through space from one world to another?"
"Not in that sense. You didn't just leave your world and pass through the space around it to some other star or planet. You left your plane, crossed the barrier that separates your plane from the Blind Eternities, entered into this dimension, and likely made your way here through some degree of luck."
"I see." To think he had believed himself radical for accepting the existence of other bodies in space! He shook his head slowly. "Where is here?" His spidery fingers swept across the vista.
"This is my realm. It's fairly far out, as these things go."
"So you came here, and made this place yours?"
"Nothing so simple. I created this plane and all its inhabitants. You can do something similar, when you're better in command of your gifts."
Sorin's jaw dropped, overwhelmed by what had to be the angel's fantastic fictions and the searing awareness of physical sensation, of sunlight and heartbeats and wind, that made his temples throb. Definitely a few mistakes on the reconstruction. He passed the tip of his tongue over his teeth and felt them point.
"You can stay here as long as you need to, to catch your bearings," the angel added. "But if you harm my people, or interfere with my realm, I shall end you."
Sorin was in no condition to challenge her. Not that he particularly wanted to, he added as an afterthought; shades knew how long he'd have taken to figure everything out on his own. If anything, he was in her debt.
"I'm grateful for your kindness," again, the distracting pulsing blood scent drew his attention, "but I need to get home. How do I control my movements out there?"
"Where are you from?"
Sorin's brow furrowed. "We don't exactly have a name for it; we just call it the earth, the world, you know—Innistrad, in our tongue."
"I don't know it," the angel answered. "You'll have to find it out yourself. Just remember what it feels like and call it to you. Focus on the memories you have of your home and what it feels like to exist in that space. If you don't get it on your first try, don't worry; we're immortal, you have eternity ahead of you, and you'll get there eventually."
Immortality. Blood feeding. The things Edgar had been promised by the abomination from the pit. His heart caught in his throat to think that this had been the goal of the ritual, that Idalene had been sacrificed and innocents slaughtered to give Edgar the power to cross between planes. For all he knew, Edgar was creating his own plane right now, gorged on demon blood and testing out his new powers on the universe like a child with a new toy. The lengths to which Edgar's pride would drive him—Sorin shuddered to think of the things his grandfather might inflict on the universe. But surely not even the lords of the Ashmouth could planeswalk, much less confer such power on someone else?
"How does one gain the ability to planeswalk?" he asked. "For instance, is there a ritual that confers the power?" He tried to make the question sound innocuous; he was not successful.
"Is that what happened to you?" the fingers of one white hand fluttered against the angel's mouth. "Your energy feels…corrupted. Perhaps whatever ritual you were part of triggered your planeswalking ability, but the ritual did not grant it. The spark is part of you, a rare gift that few beings possess and even fewer successfully activate."
"Good to know." It reassured him considerably to know Edgar wasn't out there gallivanting around the Blind Eternities on a power trip. "Is there any chance I could undo the ritual?"
"There are very few things beyond the reach of a fully realized planeswalker." She alighted on the earth in a fluttering of white robes and folded her wings against her back. Stalks of grass bent under the gentle pressure of her bare feet. "I'm glad you wish to counteract the black magic that cursed you with your present form, but how you go about doing so will be a personal matter. It's not beyond your power to unmake past events, but such a large expenditure of energy will be contingent on the individual nature of your magic, and on the laws of magic that operate on your plane. Not that you are necessarily bound by such laws, of course, but they can interfere with the outcome of your spellwork. Otherwise there's little counsel I can give you on the subject. Just be careful; demons can pose a challenge, even to us, depending on the power level of the spirit involved. White mana should help you cleanse the damage."
Sorin nodded. "Thank you…"
"Serra." Golden eyes sparkled in the warm light. "A word of advice: you have more power at your disposal than the gods of most planes. In the upcoming years, the feats of which you'll discover yourself capable will astonish you. Do not abuse your privilege at the expense of innocent beings."
"I don't intend to. This is all a bit overwhelming, but I know I want to use my power to help others." His thoughts were jumbled, tired. The sunbeams beat down cruelly on his skin, but he was far from shelter on the wide and empty plains.
"I should hope so. Let the curse on your form be a warning against unwarranted experimentation in the future."
"It wasn't my fault!" he snapped. The rebuke had hurt, the more so because it was, in the grand scheme of things, unjust. "My grandfather tricked me. I didn't realize he was cutting a deal with a demon until it was too late to back out."
Serra frowned. "That doesn't justify your complicity. You have a responsibility to atone for your actions, not excuse them."
Shame crept hot and sulfur-tinged through Sorin's chest. Edgar was more at fault, but she was right; he should have known better. Wending through the mountains with Runo in the shadow-shrouded blue-upholstered carriage, the possibility of following the narrow road away from the impending summons had flitted across his mind. He had dismissed it. He had believed Edgar's ridiculous story about the Geier River spirit and the role he had to play in liberating it. If he had outright refused like he should have, the ritual might never have gone off. He might still have convinced Edgar to leave Stensia, and they'd be safe in Kessig right now, away from the mountain valley and the blood sacrifices that had profaned the new moon night. Idalene would still be alive.
He sighed. "There's nothing you can tell me about undoing the ritual?"
"Very little," she said more softly. "How many people were involved?"
"Thirteen, including myself. One of our number was sacrificed."
"It was your grandfather who killed her?"
"Yes." His voice caught in his throat. "He led the ritual."
"What do you know about the demon you invoked?"
"His name was Shilgengar. He was powerful, more powerful than anything I had ever felt. There were at least three or four sacrifices that went into the offerings before the demon demanded a fresh kill for the blood ritual. I didn't know about any of it. I was just supposed to hold the wards."
Serra's eyes were full of pity, but her tone was firm. "Given the amount of power that obviously went into this, the best you might be able to hope for at this point is damage control. Did you see what happened to the demon before your planeswalk?"
"Then your first objective is to banish him back to wherever he came from, if you aren't strong enough to kill him outright. Then you'll need to deal with the other ritual participants, if any of them survived."
"You don't mean—"
"Kill them, if they refuse to repent."
Sorin stared open-mouthed. "I can't. My grandfather is arrogant, power hungry even, but he's not evil. And Runo is a priest! He must have had reason to—"
"Consider what your grandfather has done." Her judgment was cold, dispassioned, and righteous certainty leant a damning finality to her words. "He is likely beyond saving. You should prepare yourself to take any measures necessary to ensure he doesn't hurt anyone else. You'll need to kill him, Sorin." He didn't bother trying to surmise how she knew his name. "He's a threat to your entire world. If you don't deal with him, there's no telling how many more people he'll harm."
Beneath the prickling rasp of the sun on his too-pale skin and the hunger twisting away in his gut, Sorin was numb. Serra was making wild leaps of judgment, she didn't understand the situation thoroughly enough to make such calls and didn't have any business doing so.
"I should get going," he cleared his throat.
"Before you go anywhere, there's a few things I want you to consider. The magnitude of your power means you have a responsibility to use it for the common good. To do otherwise runs the risk of literally rending reality. Killing your grandfather will be painful to you, but it will liberate your world from a great source of evil. The needs of the many outweigh your personal attachments."
Sorin didn't want to consider, much less seriously contemplate, the terrible things she was saying. "I'll do my best," he conceded. The blasphemies Edgar had committed were horrific beyond comprehension, but Sorin couldn't accept that his case was hopeless. Better to make him see the error of his ways and work for the greater good in the future. "How do I return to the Blind Eternities?"
"You shouldn't. Not yet, anyway."
"You don't understand," he started. "I don't know how the ritual turned out; I need to go home and make sure everyone's alright." The calming aura emanating from Serra's form failed to soothe the knot of anxiety in the pit of his stomach.
"I won't stand in your way if your mind is made up. But if you'll take my advice, you should stay here awhile and collect yourself. I can show you a few things about white mana and how you can use it with your new powers. I can offer you protection while you gather your bearings and come into your own. There are other planeswalkers out there, and not all of them will be benevolently disposed towards you. It would be irresponsible of me to let you leave, exposing you to such dangers, when I have a chance to offer you help."
The promise of refuge, though temporary, was tempting. Sorin knew he wasn't ready to face the void again, however much he wanted to, and stumbling across a kindly and experienced older walker was a stroke of good fortune he knew was too good to pass up.
"I accept your offer," he said finally.
"Good," she gave a relieved smile. "I'd like to show you the rest of my realm, to give you an idea of what you'll be capable of someday. And then you're going to rest for a while. You have a lot to think over."
Sorin followed her into the sunlit afternoon, beating wings and weatherbeaten boots making their way across the golden, mana-charged earth. Innistrad needed him, but it could wait for a time. His body felt fresh and alive in a way it never had before, made all the more real by his return from oblivion. The changes left by the ritual had given him cause for unease, most of all the consuming, distracting hunger that gnawed away at his mind, but he had made it out of the void alive. He would rest, and then he would set Innistrad to rights and unmake the profanities Edgar had unleashed with his hubris.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviewed! This was a hard chapter to write, since it involved getting inside the mind of a planeswalker at a time when he doesn't have any vocabulary or frame of reference to articulate what is happening to him. Serra is not going to be the only influence on Sorin's planeswalking philosophy; next chapter will elaborate on that further. Also, internet cookies to anyone who recognizes the Star Wars and Elder Scrolls worlds that inspired the selection of planes I had Sorin notice. :)