Finest Hour by Michael Komarck
It’s hard to show and tell magic. In both literature and film, there are a myriad of traps into which the conjurer might fall. On one hand, you see the fireworks-cheeseball treatment in movies such as Sorcerer’s Apprentice (the Nicolas Cage reboot, which I can’t help but like—“I’m sappy”) and that Marlon Wayans Dungeons and Dragons clusterfrag (best to watch while drinking—a lot). On the other hand, you see Gandalf and Saruman’s battle in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring with its invisible “force bolts” and controversial minimalist approach. Some magical elements, such as giant, talking beavers, that are so charming when written (Chronicles of Narnia), just do not work in magical CGI Land. I’m sympathetic. Creating images of believable power is difficult, so we’ll probably continue to see the gamut of treatments, from the tear-jerking scene of the white dragon escaping to freedom in Harry Potter, to, well . . . blue lipstick.
My approach as a writer is to respect magic but not take it too seriously. How would you do it? I’m working on a top-secret project right now, and we’re looking for one more short story to publish. If you’ve ever wanted to see your fiction in print or have read something and thought, “Hey, I could do that better—”this might be your break. This project is an independent community endeavor, unaffiliated with Wizards of the Coast.
So. We’re talking Commander magic. You should have a love of this format before you pick up that pen. We need a story for a specific Commander—he’s a pretty popular guy in tabletop circles, but his public image is pretty stale. We’re giving him a personality reboot—a fiction facelift, if you will. Submission specs are below, and I’ve included my own story for reference. Hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to reading your epic tales.
Rafiq, Icon by James Arnold
Commander: Rafiq of the Many
Story Title: “The Quest for the Holy Relic”
Word Count: 1,500–1,800
Flavor: “I didn’t sign up for this crap.” – Rafiq
Gameplay Themes: Doing strange things with Changelings/Lords/Slivers/Chimeras to assemble something both wacky and lethal
Instructions: From the first-person perspective of a nameless, gender-neutral planeswalker, tell an epic story with Rafiq of the Many as your Commander. In this scenario, Rafiq must do things he’s not done before in his military career, things he might be uncomfortable with. Allude to or explicitly name Key Cards or other relevant spells as you see fit. Your story should capture interpersonal as well as battlefield interactions. You’re bringing Commander to life. This is a fictionalization of the format’s vibrant fantasy elements and chaotic multiplayer charm.
Prizes: Publication and a set of custom tokens done for us by Inkwell Looter.
Deadline: E-mail your entry to moxymtg at gmail dot com by October 23, 2013
Prossh, Icon by James Arnold
"For a Greater Good"
by MJ Scott
“A little lower.”
“There isn’t anywhere lower than this.”
“Lower and around the corner of my—ahhhh yes, there. You have some talent after all, ’walker.”
“And you’re getting fat. It wouldn’t be so difficult if I could see where I was scratching.” I moved my staff up and down and in a vaguely circular motion as Prossh, one of the most feared dragon predators on Dominaria, twitched and sighed.
“Ah, ah, ah—Yes!” he exclaimed in a burst of steam, his left hind leg shaking spasmodically.
“Enough. Time to go.” I grimaced and reverently laid my staff down against an outcropping of rock.
“I am spectacularly unsatiated.”
“Then you can go find a willing kraken after the battle. Put your head down.”
The sound that came from Prossh’s throat was something between an earthquake and a tsunami. My soul flinched, but outwardly, I stood up straighter—as straight as could be expected of a gimp.
“I harbor a vehement dislike for your tone.” Prossh swiveled an eye of liquid amber in my direction. It fixed upon me with the force of a gale.
“Remember, it’s all for the greater good,” I said congenially, tracing the patterns of Prossh’s most hated spell in the air. He flicked his tongue at me but acquiesced, his head inching toward the ground until I could place the Helm atop his golden brow.
“It pinches,” he complained.
“You should try a corset,” I kicked his foreleg with my toe and he extended it reluctantly. I carefully levitated a Greave above his left index knuckle. The artifact glowed softly, stretching itself in width and length until it fit perfectly over the dragon’s finger like the jewelry of Shivan priests. I repeated the process on the other side.
“These itch like the abyss!” he roared, flapping his wings until the fawning kobolds around us started trilling in alarm. The sound reminded me of tiny Ravnican dogs being stepped on. I closed my eyes to block out the memory of the city.
“At least you have all your legs,” I gritted, and Prossh immediately quieted. He grunted as I tightened straps and adjusted, snapping hungrily every now and then at passing kobolds. The carmine-hued creatures meandered and bumbled around us, muttering to themselves. Finally, Prossh couldn’t help himself, and his great jaws reached out and snatched a particularly rotund kobold from existence. The draconic fangs crunched down through kobold flesh and bone in a luxuriously wet sound I wish I’d never heard. Prossh smacked and lolled his tongue in pleasure.
“Do you have to do that?”
“What, this?” Prossh belched.
“They’re sentient creatures. Couldn’t you get your kicks with a bit more respect?” I gripped my robes in one hand and, with the grace of a drunk flamingo, I managed to grab my staff with the other. I thumped over to the precipice overlooking the battlefield.
Prossh snorted. “They couldn’t hope for a more honorable end than to be eaten by a dragon.”
And at that moment, we were besieged.
A stunningly beautiful blue mage was pulling spell after spell from the æther, her ivory skin and ebony hair shining in the lurid glow of the battlefield.
Would’ve liked to have known her at the Academy, I thought.
A flaming barrage hit us from the north, where I could see another ’walker, of the red persuasion, setting loose a horde of goblins in our general direction. From the southwest, a hulking beast approached, his shoulders mantled with the effervescence of a myriad of enchantments.
“This is abominable,” Prossh snorted.
“Finally, we agree. I don’t know how we’re getting out of this one.” I shook my head, wrapping my fingers around the cool, dark wood of my staff. Prossh jettisoned himself into the air to do recon. I watched as he glided into the space of battle. No matter how many times I saw him soar, my heart leaped just the same as if it was the first time.
Prossh engaged a mixed-colored angel and then a sizable spider. The canyon shook with bellows of rage and a cacophony of spells as one mage answered another. The beast wearing the enchantments encroached upon our position, one hairy, inevitable step at a time. Prossh swooped down to munch kobolds between skirmishes. He swallowed them barely chewed, and they didn’t even scream. I watched the great dragon actually punch an angel in the face with a kobold arm that was sticking out of his teeth. The angel shook her beaked lance at him and went back for reinforcements.
I leaned out over the rock face to form a better idea of the lay of the battlefield, hoping to cast a spell that might buy us some time. The ground lifted and careened beneath me, and far away, I heard the strains of a fire mage’s incantation. I slipped, my bad leg going over the edge of the cliff. I felt the caressing whisper of the ravine below me and grabbed at the rocky ledge with my free hand. I couldn’t let go of my staff. I was nothing without it.
“Festering fire-gorgers!” I swore, and scrabbled at the shale. My good foot found purchase, but the strength of my hand failed me. My nails broke against the pebbles, and I fell, the hot air of the battlefield rushing up against my neck. I felt myself relaxing back into nothing. Slow as a dream, my connection with the real world severed. I was falling into anonymity, into endless sleep.
“Not yet.” A rumbling voice, like molten gold rushing over obstacles of obsidian, broke into my consciousness. A whirlwind whistled around me as I slammed against something solid, my spine screaming in agony.
“You,” I muttered, not sure if I was grateful or resentful. Sometimes at night, I did wish for a quick and painless death.
Prossh wheeled upward with me prone on his back, a limp parasite. His speed outmatched the fumes and fire, and we ascended to safety. I heard distant cursing from other ’walkers and mages in my mind’s eye. Despite the pain in my body, I smiled.
“You have it in you?” Prossh growled, twisting his golden neck back to look me in the eye. My dark gaze met his of pyrite. I rolled over and grasped his flank-scales.
“Of course,” I smiled.
“Good. I need a little discipline,” he flicked his tongue.
We rose into the air.
I reached into the depths of my black robes and wrapped my fingers around the Ingot. Its power seeped into my blood, and I felt it as a wave of cold metal flowing under my skin, a ferrous taste springing to the fore of my senses.
The kobold entourage below us howled and writhed, their destruction a kind of empathetic, religious epiphany. Prossh opened his great jaws, and the foxfire souls of the kobolds flowed into his gullet in a vaporous river. He closed his mouth and sighed in pleasure. I felt his entire body convulse and expand beneath mine.
“Frenex Fatalia,” I scattered bits of vampire bone and imp wings across the sky. The battlefield was a lavender and scarlet sunset beneath us, tendrils of blue-gray smoke rose above the screams of the lost.
“I’ll be back,” Prossh grumbled, before he roared in pain and outrage. He tripled in size, and I struggled to hold on to his scales. Screaming a bloody aria, he charged our enemies. I clung to his back, flopping around like a corpse doll and cursing his name with every other jarring bounce.
He smashed through the blue mage’s aerial defenses. I saw her, standing on water, thinking herself immune to all forces. Her wall of spirits failed beneath Prossh’s onslaught, and my rival ’walker fell to her doom in a nova of starlight.
Below me, the battle raged. The blue mage was vanquished, but the red mage and many others—a ’walker that controlled etherium-enhanced sphinxes, the enchantment-warded beast stalker, and a noxious lich lord, to name a few, were still hard at it. The sun was low in the sky. The stars were out above us, diamonds stitched into in a black velvet train. The horizon was red, running with blood. Staring at the heavens, I lost my balance and pitched to the left. Unable to counterbalance myself, I smacked the dragon’s hide with my palm.
“Prossh!” I shouted. The dragon twisted, and I found myself safely situated once more.
“I’d still like to get to know that lady in blue,” I yelled to let him know I was all right.
“Wouldn’t you,” he shouted back, but I heard the strain in his voice. The æther was ripping away scale after scale as my spell began to extract its payment. I watched his wings transform from indomitable arches to shredded pinions in less than a minute. He screeched in agony as the æther mercilessly tore away at his flesh. The gold of his eyes fluttered away in droplets of ore, and then his teeth and claws dissolved into ash. I felt his presence dissipate as I was slammed back against the cliff. I lay there, too exhausted to move. I was crippled, and alone.
I’d lost my leg on Ravnica. I’d ’walked there, for a meeting with someone named Liliana Vess. It was a trap, of course—I’d been ambushed by undead and a number of things she certainly didn’t have the power to conjure. She must have had an ally much greater, I told myself every night as I tried to fall asleep, trying to reconcile my complete and utter loss and victimization. I would have been able to take her in a fair fight, I told myself.
My leg had been eaten by zombies. I watched them do it while I scrambled through the wreckage of my mind to find a spell that could save what was left of my existence. I’d done it, but it didn’t feel like a victory. It felt like charity. Liliana had winked at me as I ’walked away. What had she wanted with me in the first place? I wasn’t the type of Planeswalker who went around meddling with worlds. I just wanted a normal life.
“There’s no normal life,” Prossh had said, when he found me lying in a gutter on Shandalar. “I’m bored,” he’d said. “Sitting on treasure gives me hemorrhoids, and I have no fondness for torching castles nor kidnapping fair maidens.”
“You’re a dragon,” I’d said hoarsely. My hair had fallen out and I was covered in lice—though to be fair, even the lice on Shandalar were things of wonder. “Look at me.” I started to weep. Prossh turned his head sideways and belched. It was the worst thing I’d ever smelled in life—or death. It brought me fully back to reality. I coughed and struggled to crawl away from the stench.
“Okay. The truth is, I really just need someone to help me eat more kobolds.” Prossh had said.
“I can do that.” That was three years ago.
“Again,” I whispered and, clutching my staff, rose to my feet. I spoke my words of magic. I disbursed the spell components into the æther and simultaneously said a prayer I didn’t even know I knew.
“Sentimental,” Prossh said, materializing from the darkness. The army of kobolds that appeared with him was massive. They shrugged at me in resigned pride, and I laughed.
“Gastronomical!” I replied, climbing onto Prossh’s back.
“Those last kobolds were a bit bland,” he said.
“Hey, I haven’t had axebane stag in weeks,” I retorted. “I need a roast! Look how scrawny I am.” I held out my tunic to emphasize the bony profile of my twisted hips and jutting ribs.
“True,” said Prossh, “You’re a real featherweight, even adjusting for your missing leg. And I am getting fat. How about I rustle up a stag and then you engineer a spell for lean but full-flavored kobolds?”
“I’ll think about it. After dinner.”
Above the fires of war, my dragon and I planned a sumptuous banquet.
Till next time, may Magic be your feather-quill pen. Or your keyboard. Now, get writing!