The Maro studied himself intently in the mirror. He wore the same flannel shirt, the same shoes, and the same superhero-themed T-shirt. He looked much the same as he always had. And yet, like every time he looked in the mirror, he never saw the same…him.
It didn't help that he was nervous, the worry showing through the branches stretching out of the corners of his mouth. He had barely touched his blog this morning, he already had to repost his Twitter comic twice this morning due to typos, and he had slept restlessly last night. Then again, he slept restlessly every night, a pencil by his bed to jot down his dream-forged inspiration.
But none had come to him last night, and that concerned him. Today, of all days, he needed his wits about him. For today was the yearly meeting of the Maros.
The yearly meeting of the Maros had been a tradition since that war thingy on Kamigawa. Maro really wasn't sure what that was about. There were spirits and something about a bad guy in white and a good guy in black. It hurt his head to think about it. But what really mattered was that five new Maros had sprung out of whatever that spirit war thingy was. He thought there might have been gifts of some kind.
What he was sure of this morning was that he wouldn't be able to do this without his oldest friend, Multani. He and Multani had been close for a very long time. They had worked together, fought together, grown and shrunk together, and today they were traveling to the gathering together.
"Maro!" Multani spread his leafy arms wide, embracing Maro and completely enveloping him in his grasp. Maro was older, but Multani had always been bigger. Twice as big. It was kind of embarrassing, actually.
"Multani," Maro muffled into what passed for Multani's armpit. "It's so wonderful to see you."
"And you, as well," Multani said. "And look who I've brought with me!"
It was then that Maro saw Molimo and sighed. Molimo was Multani's cousin. By marriage. Even Freyalise did her best to ignore him. He was family, sure, but he was different. And he was coming with.
Still, Maro resolved not to let Molimo bother him. Today was special.
"I'm pulling out of the walkway, and we all know what that means," Maro said to Multani. "It's time for another amble to work! Okay, today is a going to be all about Maros. Blue Maros, black Maros, red Maros, and, of course, green Maros."
"This again? Can't we just amble in silence?" Multani asked. But Maro seemed not to hear him.
"But, before I get to that, I'm going to talk a little bit about where Maro, that's me, came from. You see, to understand that, you have to go way back to Gaea. I've talked about doing this talk, and I thought it was finally time to do it. So, I'm going to explain today where Maros come from, and how they all differ."
"I know," Multani sighed. "I'm a Maro-Sorcerer. I get it."
"Maros!" Molimo bellowed, to no one in particular.
"Well, you see," Maro continued, ignoring Multani and Molimo. "The idea for nature spirits dates back to when I lived in Los Angeles and wrote for a television show. You might have heard of…"
"We're here," Multani interrupted. "See, Adamaro is already here."
"Adamaro, First to Arrive," Maro chuckled.
The others arrived one-by-one.
Masumaro strode up to the gathering next, embracing both Multani and Maro, offering them the bounties of his forest by way of greeting.
"Greetings, and salutations. I bring you the healthiest, most natural bounties of the earth. All of my offerings are #glutenfree and #allnatural. Only items from Gaea herself are worthy of this #blessed event," Masumaro sang.
"Are you talking in hashtags?" Maro asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Banana?" Masumaro offered.
"Disgusting," Maro said, fighting off the urge to throw up at the sight of the vile yellow fruit. "I brought a sandwich."
Kiyomaro arrived next, bowing stoically to Maro and Multani before wordlessly moving on.
Next up was Soramaro. Maro always enjoyed the puzzles Soramaro dreamt up, though Multani was fond of pointing out some flaw.
"Maro, Multani, I bestow my greetings, and a puzzle to you," Soramaro said, his words echoing throughout the hall.
"You have 2 life and three cards in hand, two of which are land, but your opponent has played Land's Edge and revealed a land on top of their library with Counterbalance. Your opponent is at 6 life. The names of the three cards in your hand, when the letters are pulled out of each name and rearranged, are: PPPLLLAAAIIINNNSSS. What must your third card be and how do you win the game from here?"
"Um, don't you just discard the three Plains in your hand and win?" Multani asked.
Soramaro frowned at Multani and scoffed before moving on, quietly muttering to himself about making the puzzle more difficult next time.
Kiyomaro came next. His descendent was with him, as he had been the past few years. Neither Masumaro nor Soramaro brought their children with them to these meetings, but Kiyomaro persevered year after year, even after it became apparent the younger Maro wanted little to do with his father.
"Ah, Maro. Greetings, to you and yours. You remember my son?"
The descendent of Kiyomaro gave Maro a half nod, and then went back to looking at his phone.
Some time passed before the final attendee, Kagemaro, arrived.
"I brought you a gift," Kagemaro said, a smirk on his face.
"That's so nice of you," Maro said, though he was taken aback. Kagemaro was never particularly generous. Still, the box he handed Maro was small, elegant, and decorated in the fashion of the forest. "I know you'll appreciate it."
Kagemaro wandered over to the circle, but Maro could not wait to open the gift. He carefully unwrapped the bow, styled like a leaf, and peeled back the wrapping paper, textured like bark. Inside, he found a single item and stared at it for a moment. He could hear Kagemaro snickering.
It was a single Hornet Sting.
"It's been a year since we last met," Maro began as the group gathered around the table. "How about each of us stand and tell everyone a bit about themselves, their philosophy, and how they've been doing?"
"Our philosophy? Why…" Kagemaro began.
"Just let him have this," Multani said. "Just go with it. We'll all get to talk. It's a thing."
Kiyomaro was the first to stand.
Kiyomaro: "Hi, I'm Kiyomaro."
Masumaro (and no one else): "Hi Kiyoma…oh, are we not doing that this year?"
Kiyomaro: "Ahem, as I was saying. My name is Kiyomaro. I've been spending a lot of time with my son, Descendant of Kiyomaro. We get along pretty well most of the time. He tries to keep up, as we both certainly share the same love of life, but…"
Adamaro: "Shut up. I'm red. I like interrupting."
Kagemaro: "And I'm black, which means I like casually dropping evil things into the conversation. You know. Casually."
Maro: "Let's all wait your turn. Plus, Kiyomaro is the only one standing, so he gets to talk."
Kagemaro: "How much of this do we have to suffer through?"
Masumaro: "No one is suffering except you. #Ilovelife #livinglife"
Kagemaro: "No, I'm just the first to admit it."
Adamaro: "LOUD ARGUING NOISES."
Maro: "Can we get back on track? You were saying, Kiyo?"
Kiyomaro: "Thank you, Maro. As I was saying, we were having trouble relating…"
Soramaro: "You should try having more cards in your hand. That always helps me."
The group nodded in agreement.
Masumaro: "Like, twice as many as you think you need. #cardstrong #gymtime #twiceisnice"
Maro: "Seriously, how do you speak in hashtag?"
Kiyomaro: "That's easy for you to say, Soramaro. You're the only one of us capable of doing that naturally. Life isn't so easy for the rest of us."
Soramaro: "It's because I puzzle over life's great mysteries. Speaking of puzzles, let's say you're at 3 life and your opponent is at 478, and you have no cards, no lands, and no library, but you have…"
Kagemaro: "Kill me now…"
Maro: "Hold on now, let's all settle down."
Kiyomaro: "I'm still the only one standing. I should be the one talking. Like I said, my son and I…"
Adamaro: "My turn! SoyesterdayIwasstandinginlineatthegasstationandtherewasthiskidwearingabaseballhatbackwards andIwaslikeHEYKIDNICEHATandhisdadtoldmenottotalktohissonthatwayandIwaslikeHEYDAD NICEHATandhewaslikewhatareyoutalkingaboutandIsaidIREALLYLIKETHATHAT andhesaidyoucouldbuyoneatanystoreandIwaslikeSWEETIWANTTHATHAT."
Multani: "And then?"
Adamaro: "I got the hat."
Maro: "Okay, moving on. Masumaro, how are you?"
Masumaro: "So good, brother Maro. The world has been good to me and mine. I #lovetheearth and the trees and the grass. #MotherGaeaisgood, and so are all of her children. Why, just the other day I was taking a picture of a plate of greens with #nofilter, and it occurred to me just how much I love all of Gaea's creations, and #everythingissogood…"
Adamaro: "So is your latte and your farm-raised chicken and your gluten-free water. We get it. You like nature and dislike punctuation. Let's go back to talking about my sweet hat."
Kiyomaro (still standing): "I think we have more important things to discuss. For example, my son…"
Kagemaro: "Could not care less."
Soramaro: "Hold on, I've got it. You have 87 life but your opponent has 3 life and a Mirror Universe, but there's an Eon Hub third from the bottom of your library…"
Fumarole: "Wait, what am I doing here?"
Kagemaro: "No one cares."
Kiyomaro: "I care."
Masumaro: "We #care about #alllivingthings. But, then again, Fumarole is a sorcery, so I don't really get it either."
Soramaro: "You wouldn't."
Maro couldn't take it anymore. He heard them bickering above one another, their differences divided as cleanly as slices in a pie. But it was his pie. His!
Maro: "STOP IT, ALL OF YOU!"
The group hushed. Maro had never raised his voice before.
Maro: "Please. We're all Maros. We're all different, sure. Kagemaro, you're an evil bastard, and that Hornet Sting was just mean, but we need you to balance out the growth of the other Maros. Kiyomaro, you're a bit whiny today…"
Descendent of Kiyomaro: "Just today?"
Maro: "…but, you stand for something. In fact, you're still standing. You really could sit down."
Kiyomaro: "I'm good."
Maro: "Adamaro, I'm not sure what your obsession is with that hat. It looks ridiculous."
Adamaro: "It's mine. You can't have it."
Maro: "Sure, but, you're the most aggressive of all of us, and that helps balance things out for all of the fans of Saviors of Kamigawa."
Kagemaro: "All of the what of Saviors?"
Maro: "And Soramaro possibly makes the most sense out of any of us. In fact, if I hadn't come first, it's entirely possible that Soramaro would be leading these meetings. Or Masumaro, the largest of all of us, most of the time. Sure, you're annoyingly into things that are natural, but that's just who you are, and we love you for it. Not fond of the hashtag thing, but we all have our things."
Masumaro: "You truly are #blessed."
Kagemaro: "Yeah, I don't know what that means."
Maro: "And Multani, you're my oldest friend, the first to truly let me know I wasn't alone in this world, and the first to make sure I carved out this space for myself and for the rest of you. Thank you."
The room was quiet. Maro had never spoken as such and none knew what to say. These gatherings were meant to bring them closer, but it seemed only Maro could keep them from stepping on their toes. He was their guardian, their champion, and their friend.
Multani cleared his throat first.
Multani: "Maro, I think I speak for all of us when I say…"
Multani: "Yes, Molimo. Maro. Maro indeed."