This has been quite a week for flavor. On www.MagicTheGathering.com, we’ve seen the admirable Jess Lebow begin a three-part series on the nature of Onslaught, and Mark Rosewater used part of his article to talk about the future of the Magic storyline. Also, now I’ll compose my promised piece on the J. Robert King’s Legions. Storyline fans can share a mighty huzzah at this week’s events!
I’d very much like to address these two pieces here this week – but first, I’m going to present the planned review of the novel Legions. Next week, I’ll be discussing my take on what each of them are saying and presenting some predictions that may or may not be terribly exciting yet worrisome.
For those of you who didn’t read The Real Story Behind Legions, go ahead and check it out. Also, I’ll take this space to thank those who discussed my article far more than usual on Star City’s forums. Taeme and others certainly brought out some points that I missed (especially about the Riptide project). It’s good to see that there are others out there who care as well!
However, because of many disparities between flavor texts in Legions and the novel itself, this article is devoted solely to the novel. Note that, of course, spoilers will abound in this article. Also note that my copy of Legions is currently on loan to another Magic player, so I cannot directly reference the book for exact facts – please forgive any slight inaccuracies encountered.
On to the account!
We’ll begin where Onslaught left off: The Nightmare Lands, a part of Topos (the land created by Ixidor), has been ravaged by war. Thousands of insidious deathwurms were released from Phage, allowing Jeska to make brief contact before the wurms fled back into her fetid body – all except for one, that is. The survivors of the battle have fled, with troops of the Cabal and Krosan forest alike turning from the field of death. Braids, having ridden atop one of the deathwurms stretching an entire league (that’s three miles, folks), finds herself in an awkward position when the wurm goes back into Phage’s body.
Although the dementia summoner tries to make it to safety by using dementia space as a sort of staircase, she ends up crashing through the trees, landing with broken legs and broken spirit. Afraid for the first time in her life, Braids pitifully crawls to safety to hide from predators of the night. Here she waits until found by Akroma, who located her with one of Ixidor’s disciples (pieces of thought buzzing around, doing Akroma’s will). Elated to have found the key to the ominous door of her enemy, Akroma takes the poor child under her wing and brings her back to Topos.
Akroma has plans of her own: Unable to find Ixidor after all these months, Akroma has taken it upon herself to bring his vision to all the world, planning to conquer it in his name. Using his disciples, Akroma has been converting pilgrims from all over Otaria to see his light, and those converts have been streaming into Topos for some time, though many more are on the way. To their ranks, Akroma plans to add one more key figure. Torturing Braids mentally and physically while totally convincing Braids that it’s for her own good, Akroma extracts from her mind all information about the First that Braids knows. She replaces Braids’ poorly-set legs by breaking them, and she replaces Braids’ insane mind by stripping it of the madness of the Cabal, leaving an overly grateful and dedicated follower of Ixidor.
But there’s another important follower of Ixidor that Akroma gives an important task. The reason Ixidor is missing in the first place is because his escape plan, two unmen who were to act as portals, sacrificing themselves for Ixidor in the case of emergency, abandoned him. See, each unman is a shadow with two halves (and is really the most clever creature developed in this set, though not at all represented in the cards). One half is in part of the labyrinthine castle Ixidor built for himself, and the other is able to walk around and interact with the world. In case of danger, Ixidor jumps through one unman and is followed by all the rest. After the entourage has passed through, the first unman closes forever. However, while fleeing a deathwurm, two unmen took their lives into their own hands by not jumping through a third unman after Ixidor. This prevented Ixidor from reaching safety and led to his consumption by said wurm.
Determined to wreak revenge upon the traitors, Akroma grants free will upon the third, giving him the name Umbra. She charges him with the task of tracking down the other two and bringing them to her. He engages in his task, following the bungling pals Mr. Puddle and Mr. Stick (or Waistcoat and Slash, as they prefer to be called). However, after viewing the freedom with which Waistcoat and Slash enjoy life, Umbra realizes the virtues of being truly alive. The three of them set out together to engage in a quest to find bodies.
Meanwhile, while all of this has been going on, the survivors of the battle on the Nightmare Lands have stumbled upon a long-forgotten city. Deciding to work together for the common good, the survivors create the community of Sanctum with Zagorka, once second to Phage, as their leader. Enjoying what they believe to be a perfect commune, all citizens are astonished to see Phage enter their doors one day. Although Zagorka suspects that Phage is insincere when she says that she has revoked her allegiance to the First, in the name of Sanctum, she allows Phage to join.
Indeed, Phage’s allegiance to the First has not been severed: In fact, they share an even greater bond than once they did. After having the killing touch for countless ages, the First discovers that he can come in contact with Phage without destroying her. Similarly, he is the only living thing she can touch that does not rot away. Naturally, the two of them gravitate toward each other, developing their relationship into one of love and hate, of sex and violence. The First, confused by this woman, turns to his god, Kuberr, and inquires as to what he should do about her. Kuberr, who truly and actually exists as far as the book has lead readers to believe, encourages the relationship – though as a result, he hints that the First’s demise is not an impossibility.
Unable to resist the woman he perversely loves, the First follows Kuberr’s advice, resulting in the pregnancy of Phage. Unknowing of her condition, the First sends Phage on a quest to kill Akroma with the hope that Akroma will also be able to kill Phage. For, when you get right down to it, the most important person to the First is the First.
To ensure that Phage doesn’t make it back alive, the First hits a remarkable stroke of good luck by capturing Umbra, Slash, and Waistcoat. Giving them temporary bodies in the form of giant cockroaches, the First charges them with the assassination of Phage after the assassination of Akroma, with the promised reward of beautiful human bodies upon the successful completion of their mission.
Then how’d Phage end up in Sanctum with no roaches around to bother her? Although the exact instance of her discovery eludes me, the team discovers Braids in the land of Topos, and Phage orders the shadows to take her back to Aphetto to see the First and be reinitiated in the Cabal. Unable to disobey the fearsome Phage, the shadows make their way to the new capital of the Cabal, hoping for leniency from its master.
So Akroma’s building an army, the First hopes to subtly conquer Otaria by putting fighting pits in every city, the unmen of Ixidor are working for the Cabal, and Phage is living in Sanctum with Zagorka, her second-in-command, and General Stonebrow, Kamahl’s second-in-command.
Stonebrow, you may or may not recall, was transformed from a run-of-the-mill centaur to one towering above the heads of all mortal challengers by Kamahl and the Mirari. Extremely distrustful of Phage and disapproving of her hold over Sanctum, Stonebrow keeps aloof from the rest of the citizens, avoiding being sucked into the hold of the Cabal. However, everyone’s lives change when Akroma herself makes a visit to the quiet city.
When the half-woman/half-panther/all-angel drops down upon the city demanding surrender, no one takes kindly to their unexpected foe. Phage declares that the armies of Cabal will defend against the forces of Topos, and Stonebrow promises the might of Krosan to back that claim. Akroma declares war on Sanctum, and after she leaves, Phage and Stonebrow both make that classic Dr. Evil excuse:”I can’t back that up with paperwork.”
Not all is lost, though, for Phage is a smart cookie. Before Akroma left, Phage convinced her to let her troops vacation in Sanctum for some relaxation when they’re not besieging the city. Even as the troops began their siege of the city, they were already being conquered by its irresistible lure of gambling. Sick of watching the Cabal infest this once-haven, General Stonebrow sets out to take care of the problem himself. Seeking Akroma’s life, he makes his way to the castle. However, the hulking centaur is not stealthy enough to avoid Ixidor’s ubiquitous disciples, one of which enters is mind and converts him.
A short while later, Phage wises up to the fact that Sanctum’s stalling tactics won’t hold back Akroma forever, so death’s feminine side decides to finish its duty of assassination. She makes her way to the palace of Topos to find that Akroma had disappeared. Where had she gone? During a party held for the benefit of achieving allies, Akroma discovered a box holding infinite space. She knew instinctively that this was where Ixidor was inside the deathwurm. Akroma flew down to find her god. Shortly thereafter, Stonebrow emerges into the main hall with Akroma’s axe with the intention of killing her (for, though devoted to Ixidor, he is not devoted to Akroma) to find her gone. So while Akroma searches for her long-lost creator, Stonebrow inherits her kingdom.
Inside the box of infinite space, Akroma does indeed find the deathwurm that had swallowed Ixidor. To make a long story short, she makes her way into the wurm and finds Ixidor. She tries to free him – but he does not want to leave, for this is the deathwurm of Nivea, his lover whom Phage killed early in Onslaught. She makes her way out of the deathwurm several months later, emerging upon the scene introduced at the beginning of the last paragraph: Phage, in an attempt to slay her.
Stonebrow, however, has other plans. Given the opportunity to kill both Phage and Akroma (who is extremely weak because of digestive juices and lots of flapping), Stonebrow sneaks up behind Phage and swings his axe at her. He’s very surprised, however, when his axe is turned away by an object in her stomach harder than stone. It seems that little Kuberr wants to defend himself! Realizing that Phage is pregnant and Akroma is a wounded angel, Stonebrow becomes sick with himself and relinquishes his hold over Topos, deciding to go get the only man who can set this madness right: Kamahl.
While all this is going on, our three friends Umbra, Slash, and Waistcoat take the unwilling Braids back to the First’s grasp in Aphetto. The First is very unhappy that the unmen didn’t take care of Phage, and he punishes them by taking away their bodies. However, he doesn’t kill them outright, giving them one more chance to prove themselves.
Meanwhile, Phage crawls back to Sanctum, and Akroma begins her healing process. While Phage enters extreme labor pain but endures the inability to give birth, Zagorka and her elfin sage have noticed that runes have been popping up all over the city. The elf, Elionoway, has determined that the runes predict the coming of ancient gods to fight a war for control of the world. Indeed, when the runes come to life, he’s proven correct. All of a sudden, the pace of the novel shoots up, as does Sanctum – literally. The city grows and seems to embody one of the three gods to be involved in the upcoming divine war.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to follow Phage to the conclusion of her birth. After a tortuous journey overland, Phage finally reaches the First and has a C-section to get rid of the baby that’s been growing inwardly for twelve months. In her weakened position, the First attempts to murder her finally, but she gets away – and just as Kuberr would will it, kills him first. This was perhaps the most disappointing thing I’d read up to now, for I really liked the First. He’s very much like the main character of some of my own stories I write for pleasure, and I was disappointed to see him bungle his chance to assert himself. *Sigh*
Also, with Phage taking herself back to the First, the three unmen – who really endear themselves to the reader – become, basically, free. They decide to risk going to Akroma to ask her to take pity upon them and grant them bodies. She decides to give Slash and Waistcoat bodies, though she coldly informs Umbra that he will continue to be her slave. It’s not so bad, though, when Umbra realizes that Slash and Waistcoat only got bodies so that Akroma could have the pleasure of killing them. In the split-second before his only friends in the world meet their doom, Umbra jumps over them, sacrificing himself to let them pass through him to safety. This is the most sentimental part of the novel and can only be truly experienced if you’ve come to sympathize with the lovable unmen.
Anyway, Phage survives and leads an undead army to Sanctum to meet Akroma and the rune-men. Meanwhile, Stonebrow succeeds in waking up Kamahl and rousing a small fighting force. But, the both of them know that it’s the once-barbarian who started this whole course of events who has to end it.
Naturally, all forces converge on Sanctum – while back in Aphetto, Braids is watching the infant form of the reborn Kuberr, who grows with every soul Phage destroys. As Phage’s army arrives, it engages in battle with the thousands of living words in Sanctum. Akroma’s forces also join the fray. But, the real battle ensues when Phage and Akroma meet at the peak of Sanctum for hand-to-hand combat. I can’t capture the excitement here (see, reading the books does have value!), but they’re definitely a good match for each other. However, before their battle can be drawn to a close, Kamahl enters the scene to put an end to all the madness. Surprised by Zagorka unexpectedly dropping off of a building to enter the fray between Phage and Akroma, Kamahl does not have time to stay his might axe. In fact, he cleaves through all three women cleanly and with finality.
But, this finality is only the beginning of something greater. For, as magnificent as Kuberr, Ixidor, and the god of war embodied by Sanctum are, the divine woman that is created by the melding of Phage, Akroma, and Zagorka is even more overpowering. Her light draws all who can see to her, and her might can only be guessed. Legions ends with this terrible figure looming over Sanctum, with three armies and three gods waiting to arise to power in a world changed forever by a simple sphere.
Deep, no? Of course, even in 2800 words, I can’t capture the true essence of this or any other Magic novel, for the nuances and small pleasures are each author-specific. J. Robert King himself happens to be truly hilarious in a subtle way, working in phrases like”close the sucking hole” and”Kamahl was tapped out” to put some”regular” as well as Magical humor in his novels. But, even the bigger picture relies on the smaller details that I can’t relay. So, if this is all you read of Legions, you’ll have a pretty good handle on it, but to truly understand the storyline, you’ll have to pick up the book – or try the next one out. Scourge promises to be a truly exciting story – who can guess what’s going to happen?
Well, anyone can guess – and I’m going to attempt to do just that next week. Until then, may flavor texts always pique your interest in learning more!