Noble Hierarch by Mark Zug
Fair disclosure: Hierarch is the cosplay part of this article; Rafiq is the fan fiction. I’m proud to be sharing a short story by my partner-in-crime James Arnold, fellow Gathering Magic writer and artist who’s a man of Bant himself and brings us a peek into a turning point in young Rafiq’s life.
So it’s all awesome stuff today—just don’t want a bunch of disappointed Bant fans expecting that I also cosplayed Rafiq here. On that note, hey dudes—why not cosplay Rafiq? Or anyone! Can y’all tell me why it’s so hard to get guys to get in costume? It’s like pulling teeth, sheesh.
Magic Origins Planeswalkers, from Magic Origins: A New Era by Jenna Helland
We know from this handy-dandy chart that our buddy Gideon Jura’s first planeswalk took him to Bant. In the coming weeks, we’ll see how all the ’Walkers’ futures were shaped by their first planeswalks and what kinds of experiences influenced them as they came to terms with their newfound powers. What kind of environment would Gideon find himself on? What types of people would he meet on Bant? What kinds of ideals would those people hold dear and what life lessons would young Gideon learn?
Noble Hierarch. This iconic image by Mark Zug has plagued black mages like me from Birthing Pod days to back until probably like the day she was released. She’s all over the Modern Masters 2015 Edition packaging and is bringin’ the pious on the Grand Prix Charlotte play mat and uh, more:
Original image found here.
This devout lady has certainly achieved baller status, and she doesn’t even have a name. Sure, she’s on a great card, but it’s also just great art. This is what fantasy art should be: real emotion combined with exotic elements. Her facial expression sums it up: We’re definitely getting exalted. Her posture screams “stubborn resolve,” and faith shines from her eyes. Even without legendary status, we can’t forget her.
Also, time after time, I see artists struggle with a face as soon as he or she has to paint someone with dark skin. Not so here, where Zug created a visage both believable and beautiful. I also like the decision to give her a lean body type, as it functions as a visual clue about the depth of her sincere faith. The elevation of the spiritual over the physical, feeding oneself with faith rather than food, the result being a devoutly thin figure . . . is an old trope I learned about in some English Lit class or another. Thank god I never have to revisit college.
Anyway! The image is elegant and timeless. Noble Hierarch is definitely a lady worthy of cosplay em—perhaps the sincerest form of Vorthos flattery, right?
Noble pursuits: before and after.
So, how did I go from scrungy sweats-clad housewife to epitome of exalted elegance (albeit an um, less lean version of the card art)? The first step was to put the sweatpants on my head.
Testing components. Didn’t actually end up using that rod as staff, it’ll be Narset’s though.
Old University of Oregon sweats. Cut the bottoms off in a Hierarchal shape and then sewed shut.
Glued the sweats down on white craft foam. Cut foam into appropriate shape.
The circular decoration is made from a cake round I salvaged from my son’s birthday cake. It was a gold round, so I drew on the design and then painted the rest green.
Made the seventeen sigils and the earrings from Fimo sculpting clay. My five-year-old son embossed the sigils with various designs using household tools.
Husband sprayed it all gold. It’s a family affair. Oh, what’s that? Looks like Liliana snuck something of hers into the mix, too . . .
Backyard photoshoot light testing. Cosplay: good use of mortgage amenities.
The big issue with this cosplay was time. My second son is a little over a month old, and I thought I may not be able to even do the shoot unless he took a nap. Luckily, I prayed to the Amesha, and she put him to sleep for an hour. Did I get the shots? Let’s find out.
Stand Up or Stand Aside
A bead of sweat broke just above the right eyebrow, pooling downward into Rafiq’s eye. Unblinking, he ignored the salty sting, his eyes fixed dead ahead. The day was hot, and the armor heavy, but the sweat on the warrior’s brow was mostly due to the two men who stood opposite him, swords drawn. His muscles ached from fatigue, his skin itched from the damn armor, but still he stood in silent challenge, an eternity of minutes.
The tension wavered as the sound of footsteps on stone drew close. Pushing aside a heavy vine in the overgrown ruins, a third ranger stepped into the clearing. Bright eyes, gaunt jaw, a long beak of a nose, a loosely tied mane of hair trailing down his armored back—every bit the predator. He had the loose posture of a man who had been drinking heavily, but his balance was perfect. His language, while coarse, was just as calculated as that of any scholar.
“Easy there, boys, let’s all just breathe now. Ain’t no reason anybody gotta bleed today who ain’t already bleeding. We aren’t here to hurt you, big fella.”
The man spoke patiently, hands open at his sides. Rafiq’s back stiffened at the array of killing tools on the man’s belt: sharp, serrated, and well used. Doubtless, there were more he couldn’t see.
“Precisely what you’d say if you were.”
“Fair enough; you may be young, but at least you ain’t young and stupid—dangerous combination.”
Rafiq suppressed a smile, breathing out slowly.
“Men of Eos, you must cease this.”
Rafiq stood between the rangers and their prey, a merman with blistered feet and no breath to spare. Attempting to push himself up on one arm, the merman succumbed to pain and exhaustion; slumping back to the dirt, his eyes glazed over. A necklace of runes sang as his chest rose and fell, a chorus of wood and stone. On the other side of the barrier of noble steel, the ranger continued.
“Lucas the name, these here are the lads. We got a lot of miles behind us and more to go; no need to make this mile a bloody one.”
“Why are you doing this?”
Lucas shrugged, looking off into the distance.
“Why are you doing this?”
Rafiq allowed a moment of smug satisfaction as he held his sole sigil high for the rangers to see. Glittering gold forming stars flying high above the five-sided halo of Jenara: Sigil of the Protectors. Rafiq spoke the invocation with precision, as though he were taking his final examinations at the academy.
“For the good of the nation, for the sake of us all, for the Mortar, for the Angels, for Bant.”
Lucas chuckled softly.
“Son, that’s why we’re here.”
Rafiq’s puzzled brow spoke volumes.
“I know you, Rafiq—or, more accurately, I know of you via your father. Good man. I reckon I owe him for a time or two. It’s too late to pay him back personally, so I guess you’ll do. There’s something you should know about that merman you’re fixing to protect. He’s got the vision, the markings of a mystic clan; he’s a mage, one of many.”
“A clan of mages?”
Rafiq was familiar enough with the arcane arts, but it was unheard of for an entire group of practitioners to exist outside of the Sighted caste. He walked slowly to keep pace with the Hierarch who had summoned him. There was an intentional benevolence in her words.
“Yes, a small group of mystics that reside within my borders. They practice the arcane arts under the supervision of their elders, away from the prying eyes of the angels. They have no malice, but their methods are somewhat . . . abstract. They have chosen to take asylum in our fair lands and are entitled to my protection.”
Her pace was intentionally balanced as any element of her appearance. Simple, yet elegant, comfortably worn, but with a fresh perspective: the perfect blend of old and new. Even her eyes seemed to shine with the temper of fiery youth held just in control by an old and wise soul. The woman has a certain air of strength that ran contrary to her otherwise slight look.
“For many years, I’ve kept the forests of Eos safe, kept them free. Then, several of my rangers disappeared, and they weren’t the only ones. I heard tales of mystics from the clan meeting particularly gruesome ends at the hands of animals of the woods—animals my rangers should have had under control. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the animals were under control the whole time.”
Rafiq nodded silently, weaving the sign of the angels over his chest.
“This was no hunting pack; this was intentional.”
“The mystics used to number over a hundred. In one season, there are just a dozen left. The life of Bant relies on the life of its inhabitants, and I will not see the light snuffed out under my watch. Find the traitors, young Rafiq; find them, and put a stop to this madness.”
“Madness.” Rafiq whispered.
“Madness . . . now there’s a word. No madness here, captain, just another group of soldiers trying to finish the task laid before us. Out on the roads, sleep under the stars, protect the animals, protect the nation. That’s us.”
“By slaying the citizens of Bant?”
“If that’s what’s to happen to protect the nation . . . yes.”
Rafiq shook his head. Lucas took a step forward, pointing as he spoke.
“The first one we encountered, tall and dark of mind. He was doing something, Rafiq, something we never thought we’d see in the good world. He was communicating, in a trance like, and he was talking, ’cept there wasn’t no one in the room to talk back. But it was cold, Rafiq, too cold—not even for the darkest winter night would you feel ice in your bones like we did in that room. We heard all about his plans, his mind to do things his own way, and to help this other . . . thing.”
Rafiq felt his stomach twisting at the thought.
“It was then we knew we had to do something. These mystics couldn’t be allowed to continue on in secret like this, and we didn’t have time to ask the angels for their help—too far out for them to give a care. So we did the only thing we could. Take no chances, leave no foothold for evil to find its way back in. Seal the door shut, and seal it tight.”
Bant Sureblade by Michael Komarck
Lucas was now less than a dozen paces from the giant soldier, and though he was half his potential opponent’s size, he showed no sign of fear or hesitation. Rafiq shook his head, remembering the words he was honor-bound to speak.
“The Hierarch demands you be held accountable for this.”
“And I plan on doing just that. As soon as the last of these mages hits the ground, never to bounce back, I go to her personally and surrender to whatever punishment the angels have for me. You have my word on that.”
“You won’t stop until then?”
Lucas shook his head silently.
The tension in his chest tight enough to snap a tree, Rafiq was very careful with his next words.
“Very well then. Lucas, my name name is Rafiq, son of the Mortar caste, born of Eos. I am a Knight in training of the glorious nation of Bant. I challenge you to a duel for the Right of Permission.”
The ranger looked at Rafiq with a tilted smile, like a curious owl.
Rafiq let out a huge breath with a smile, half a laugh escaping his lungs. His whole body eased. He felt the sigil solidify in his hands. He had fulfilled his oath; the sigil and the exaltation of the Hierarch belonged to him now.
“Good man, Lucas, I knew you wouldn’t let it come to this. You stepped back from the challenge, you can leave, and now I can tend to the mer—”
Rafiq felt the warmth of relief ripped from his cheeks.
“Ranger . . . you cannot . . . you . . . refusing a challenge means you surrender.”
Lucas was now within striking distance.
“I ain’t no blessed, Son; I’m just a man with an axe. Now if you’ll pardon, I intend to use it.”
The three rangers padded past Rafiq, readying their weapons, closing in on the broken form of the mystic.
Rafiq’s head spun. He had fulfilled his charge, confronted the rangers, and summoned them back to the Hierarch. The sigil was fulfilled; there was nothing else to do. He felt time slowing down . . .
Left to their own devices, they will slaughter their way back to the hierarch before facing their punishment. I can stand aside and let them complete their task. This is no longer my business. But no, there is a potentially innocent life about to be snuffed out. And for what? Curiosity? The art of mysticism? The fate of the clan would be a stain on my hands, too. Still, if the Rangers are right . . .
“No. Not this way.”
Lucas sighed wearily, turning to face the towering figure before him. Rafiq gripped the hilt of his sword tightly as exalted energy surged through his system. The visage of a crown danced in heat waves coming off his shoulder guards. His eyes erupted with the fires of war.
“This is not how we find justice in the nation of Bant.”
Lucas shrugged as he drew his battleaxe.
“Isn’t it though?”
The merfolk looked up as the warriors closed in on one another, his glassy eyes wide with wonder and terror. His ears folded back at the deafening clash, shying from the cacophony of battle. The ground shook with every blow, the merfolk’s trembling hand trying in vain to block the horror of blood and steel. He closed his eyes and cried out, his whole body quaking.
Buried among the trees they called home, what remained of the rangers’ armor stood silent testament to the glories they had known in life—armor covered in inscriptions of valor, love for their country, honor . . .
Rafiq turned silently from the graves, the Hierarch watching wordlessly as the young man passed. She could feel the questions that had taken root in his mind, questions that were not easily answered. No cleverness, no words of wisdom would spare him from himself.
She watched the knight-champion as he wound his way through the groves of her country, his brow dark as his mind. The Hierarch spoke softly, and sadly, to herself.
“A duel with the ultimate opponent—the first of many. May the Amesha smile on you, Rafiq.”
Till next time, may Magic be your mana-fixing.