If I were a braver man, I would say these words to your face.
This record is already a sin. We are Anvil tribe, my strong-hearted sister, and we do not abide weakness, let alone document it. But these are words I need you to hear, so that you might one day understand my actions.
Warchief Malach never reported back. In my heart I know he is dead, torn apart by ogre marauders who hungered for his metal. I was his second-in-command, and I knew we were in ogre territory in the valley below Oxid Ridge. Although he waved me off, it was my duty to keep him whole. I failed.
I write it here so that you may be witness to it, sister: Vulshok blood is on my hands.
There was no sword to recover from the ogres. Truth be told, we found no piece of Malach at all, a fact that gave me a cold feeling in my spine. We took down one ogre with a blast of lightning and chased off two more with spearwork and a shout from one of our ragecasters. Still no sign of Malach. I became warchief while still holding my own sword.
When the red and black suns woke me this morning, I had no notion that I would be our tribe's warchief by the time they set. I am watching them sink behind the rusty Oxidda peaks now, casting bloody light around our valley. A furnace dragon leaves a trail of smoke across the night.
I know I lied to you today. I reported to you that Malach was still scouting the area. I even sent two warriors to stay behind, to complete the picture of an extended scouting mission. Those men—my men—knew I was covering a lie. They did not object; they had to obey me. But I thought I needed to bring better news to the tribe, and to you, our Tribespeaker. I hope I haven't sent those brave souls to their deaths as well. I think again of ogres, or of an overzealous patrol of enemy Vulshok, or of a hungry furnace dragon.
These threats to the tribe are now my responsibility. Now it's my mind that boils with thoughts of the metal-eating ogres, and the snickering goblins, and of course the clan war. This valley has been ours since before the time of the green sun, and now it is I who must defend it against the bitter, jealous Vulshok tribes.
This morning I was just a warrior, and now, after passing through a curtain of lies, I am warchief. You didn't even know to congratulate me, sister. For that, tonight, I am thankful.
Farris of the Anvil
As I write this, the events of the day shadow my mind.
When you asked me whether our old warchief was truly dead, what you were truly asking was, "Why did you lie to me, brother?" I should have told you. Instead I tell this record.
Today the wind howled under the black sun, and the metal mountaintops bowed and groaned. Poor omens even to a hopeful seer. Still, I set out alone to do the unthinkable: to negotiate.
I met with Ogrond, emissary from Shield Tribe, and the old crone Trinu of Helm Tribe, around the peace-fire. They're old Vulshoks, their minds scabby with the rust of past grievances. Neither was happy to see me representing Anvil.
"Your warchief's death is a curse on this alliance," said Trinu of Helm-tribe. "The ore is weak and brittle. There shall be no truce."
"We Anvil-tribe are still committed to ending this conflict," I told them. "I carry the blessing of my sister, the Tribespeaker." Another lie. I know you'd rather I slapped your face than make terms with the other clans. I thought only of protecting our people.
"The ogres are a scourge on the valley," said Ogrond of the Shield. "Many of my tribe have gone missing. We should let the geomancers melt the peaks and let the slag scour this wretched valley." I knew he meant to leave our tribe homeless, and he knew I knew it.
We argued until the black sun rose to its peak. Finally Ogrond agreed to offer some of his warriors to help our cause against the ogres, as long as we agreed to evacuate the highlands of Oxid Ridge. That would affect few of our Anvil Tribe, but still, I knew you'd see my compromise as shameful.
Trinu wouldn't budge. She would not commit a single shaman to fight the ogres, maintaining that she would only parley with Malach or his equal. I knew she meant that to sting, and she knew I knew it. But I felt this was my duty now. Warchiefs must swallow pride for their people.
The convocation ended then, because horrors assailed us.
They came at the black sun's zenith, from the direction of the Mephidross: corroded roach-demons of steel and flesh, with blades and pincers where eyes should be. They stank of necrogen and rot, their bulk crushing our peace-fire and leaving us scrambling for weapons. Ogrond got in only a single blow before they tore him to scraps, ripping his limbs away like he was a child's toy, leaving his screaming parts for last.
I lacerated one of them with my blade, and it either howled or laughed. Trinu called a great clap of thunder down upon another. One lunged for me, unfastening some orifice full of stretched slime and writhing cables, and I thought I saw my death deep within it. Trinu jerked me out of the way and shouted a summoning, and we ran. Elementals of lightning sprung up to wage battle with the fiends, and I didn't look back after that.
"We're cursed, you and I," Trinu said, an hour later, as we sat alone under an unsettled sky.
"The tribes need each other more than ever," I said. Trinu of the Helm didn't seem in the mood to negotiate.
I know I told you none of this, Sharaia. But our tribe needs to be strong, and despair is a poison that rots the soul. I hope one day you read this and know your brother meant well.
We trudged back to search but we never found any trace of Ogrond. Those things must have consumed his remains, bone to sword. This will not stand.
Farris of the Anvil
When I was a boy, I looked forward to the energizing gaze of the Red Sun. Now I dread it. Once it rises and sees all that I have seen, I fear its gaze will not be kind.
After the attack by the horrors, I called together a secret raiding party. We met by the light of the darkest sun, some from Anvil and others from Helm-tribe, the latter led by the aged Trinu herself.
"We're heading beyond Oxid Ridge, into the Blackcleave," I said to her. "Will your warriors balk?"
"You needn't worry about my Helm-tribe," she said.
We didn't march far before the rust hills turned to black sponge. The ground was soggy and noxious, like an inkblot spreading across parchment. The smell was unmistakable; I didn't even have to send forth the ironscouts to know the rot-touched creatures were just beyond the next rise.
I addressed the war party. "Half of you stay with Trinu. The rest come with me, to investigate."
"Don't you mean 'retaliate'?" said Trinu. "Your vendetta over your slain warchief rules your heart, and I won't have my men and women suffer for it."
What was this? Insubordination? "Trinu," I said, "you do not command this party."
But she would have none of it. "Warriors! Hear me. This man, Farris of Anvil-tribe, does not speak for you. He means to lead all the Vulshok clans into war—a war against an unknown doom, a cursed war that will be the end of all of us."
Murmurs of assent, even among our own Anvil-tribe. It dawned on me that she only joined my raiding party to undermine me.
"Those rotters threaten all our clans. If you split the group, you'll endanger us all."
This only emboldened her. "Hear his threats! He is either a traitor or a fool—you owe him no fealty in either case. Let us turn our backs to these abominations and turn our faces toward our families."
My hand moved of its own accord. My blade flew to her neck in an eyeblink, and hovered just above her vocal cords. One movement in my arm and her mutiny would be punished. All around us, the warriors of both clans froze, watching me. Trinu only sneered.
Is this to be the price of safety for our clans, Sharaia? The death of warchief after warchief? Taking the life of a Vulshok elder? Was I following our proud warrior code or just covering up my incompetence as a leader? If I led those warriors to attack the rotters, would I be responsible for even more deaths? If so, could I ever face you again?
I released her. My blade found its sheath.
"Go," I said. "Take with you all who will come. But we need to know the strength of their force. Those of you who would remain with me will help me finish this mission."
So the party split. A greater number went with Trinu, and only a handful stayed with me. As Trinu's party retreated, we approached the rise—just in time to see that the horrors had skittered around the hill to a flanking position.
The rotters drove a wedge between our two parties, isolating us from each other. Warriors fell immediately, clutched by pincers and pierced by horrific, barbed injectors, screaming and foaming at the mouth as they fell. Trinu sundered one of them with a spell, and I tried to maneuver my warriors to reform the war party, but the rotters kept us dispersed. I called for a retreat, but the parties had become confused, and many were slain. By the time we fell back to a safe location, we were only five—Trinu, myself, and three youths from Helm-tribe.
It seems that no matter what I try, I am doomed to have blood on my hands. One thought consumes my mind as I write this, waiting for the Red Sun to rise and gaze down on me.
I could have stopped the events of today with one slit throat.
Farris of the Anvil
After today's events, I am glad you are even alive to write to. Dozens of our brethren are dead, and many others lie in a state of foul decomposition, ashen and less than half alive. I began these letters in the hopes that you would one day understand my actions. More and more, I write them as a chronicle of war—less as a brother, more as a warchief.
The horrors—I have heard them called "Phyrexia," a word whose very sound is a curse—had never reached this far or in these numbers. Their stench of rot and corroded metal were their herald, and the screams of our iron-scouts were our alarm. Impossible, I thought. Here, in our very homes?
I acted on impulse. If we had fled, we might have reached the Helm-tribe villages with few casualties. But lava surged through in my veins at the sight of the beasts of Phyrexia attacking our home, and I heard myself roaring orders. I didn't recognize my own voice.
"Warriors!" I cried. "To arms! All who can lift a weapon! Show these demons the road to death!" My words belied the dread in my heart.
Our attack was ferocious, but messy and ragged. We slew many of the creatures through sheer rage—but we fought not like an army, but as a brainsick mob. Many of them fell, but so did many of our own. I felt pride in our wildness; this was a rage that burned hotter than any I had ever seen in our clan. But I saw desperation in it, too. A note of despair.
We tore into them with club and blade, and finally the beasts of Phyrexia disengaged. They scuttled back in the direction of Oxid Ridge, where I suspect they may be massing in great numbers. In the end, I counted twenty-nine of our Anvil-tribe among the dead. We threw several dozen of their horrors on the pyres—a victory by the numbers, but as I looked into the faces of our living, I saw the despair again. Again I felt an impulse grip my heart. Again I heard myself speaking to our warriors in a voice that I barely recognized.
"This is not the last they will hear of us," I said, marching in a circle around the pyre before all assembled. "This is not our last hurrah. Today is the first step to our victory over a foul force that infects our land. Today is not a day of grief nor despair. Today is the day when we stand and fight."
It was all an act, Sharaia, saying those words that I did not feel the truth of. I felt like a fraud, a deceiver. But the lies did their work—we will march toward Oxid Ridge at the next crimson dawn, and you have even sent envoys to such creatures as goblins and ogres. I'm learning that that is what being a warchief is—tasting the sourness of your own sins, so that others might live with an unblemished heart.
But although our people's rage is stoked, I still feel the dread darkening my heart. I am not one given to overstatement. But I am beginning to understand now. I'm beginning to perceive the danger we face in the war ahead. This war is not about the pride of our clan versus the other clans. It's not about the Vulshok, or even about humanity. This is about all life on Mirrodin. This war is survival.
Farris of the Anvil
Today the red sun rose—the signal for our assault. Today we struck back at the Phyrexians at Oxid Ridge. Today was the first time I did not think of myself as a member of Anvil-tribe or part of the Vulshok culture—today I was truly Mirran.
Until I saw the goblin chiefs and the ogre warlords, nodding at me with their red eyes gleaming inside their war-helms, I did not believe they would come. Trinu saw me, her Helm-tribe assembled and resplendent, and she clapped me on the back as if no bad blood had ever come between us. I saw blade dancers, pyromancers, warcallers, siege squads from all tribes, and even a few races I didn't recognize. We all stood at the lip of Oxid Ridge, surrounding a mass of Phyrexians down in the valley.
All eyes turned to me, and I projected what I hoped was bold resolve. At my signal, the goblins rushed down the slope in a wave, screaming and flailing as many sharp objects as they could carry. As soon as they tumbled into the Phyrexians, the ogres set off down the hill, devouring the distance in great crust-quaking strides, slamming into our foes with mace and claw. The Phyrexians sent up rot-infected, screeching bird-creatures, and our pyromancers tore into them with whips of fire. Their witch-engines uttered oaths, and shambling horrors arose, constructed from the pieces of their early casualties. But our blade dancers ripped them down again. Like them, we were a single organism, striking out for our own survival.
It was going so well.
When the Phyrexian champion emerged, I knew my part in the choreography had come. The beast was a wurm made of oil-cursed steel, coiled together like two titanic snakes ensnared with one another. As it flailed, it destroyed huge swaths of our troops, reaving through ogre and man alike. But I had just the weapon to slay it—a mystical bomb of goblin manufacture, custom-made for its waiting mouths.
I mounted my chrome steed, but just as I started down the slope, a Phyrexian claw-horror tore at my leg. I howled in pain as the flesh curled, and I just managed to hold on to the steed—but I dropped the device. It went bouncing into the crowd, too far from the wurm engine to do damage, and threatening to blast apart some of our own. Our army saw the mishap, but were too engaged with their own parts of the assault to lend help. My steed was battle-mad and would not turn, so I gritted my teeth and rolled off of it.
I rolled, limped, and crawled back to the device. Ogres and warcallers smashed Phyrexians all around me, keeping me safe. I reached the bomb and turned back to the wurm again. I felt the eyes of our allies watching me—so I tried not to register despair at the distance. The leg was useless. I would never make it.
Certain death made me strangely calm. I made a nuisance of myself, hurling dropped spears and fallen hunks of metal at the wurm-beast, staggering toward it and whooping like a madman. A Phyrexian rotter tried to stop me—but it was killed by none other than Trinu herself, a raging grin on her face. I got the wurm's attention, and it lunged toward me, shrieking and spiraling in its unnatural gait.
It roared forth, and I hurled the bomb at its teeth. The explosion knocked down every soul on the battlefield, and sent me flying.
The rest I cannot describe to you, sister. For the next thing I remember is waking up here, deep underground, in the Phyrexian Furnace Layer.
Farris of the Anvil
As we all pursue our dying day, we must find peace with the cold choices we've made and allow ourselves to burn with hope as well we can. We must embrace our errors—even those that hurt those we love—and bury them deep. While we draw breath we must kindle the places in our hearts that can still hold heat.
Again, sister, may these records find you well, if you or any Mirran soul ever manages to find them. It may be that this will be the last message I'm able to write. That may be for the best. I may never find a way to deliver these letters from here in the hellish forges of Phyrexia—and even if I could, my name is probably a traitorous word among our clanmates. I trust you can find a fitting replacement for me as warchief, if indeed our clan yet survives.
On the chance that this letter does meet Mirran eyes, let me explain the events that separated us—if not to clear my name, at least to provide intelligence that may aid your cause. As best as I am able to reconstruct it, when I detonated the goblin bomb, the explosion shattered the surface layer of the world. The resulting crater swallowed the bulk of the Phyrexian force, but it brought me down with it, along with many of our allies among the goblins, ogres, and other Mirrans. We fell down, down, down through darkness, our screeches and cries an echoing tangle. As the darkness overcame me, I remember hallucinating that we had plunged so far that down had somehow become up.
The pain of waking was welcome, for it meant I had not succumbed to death, but the gloom around me suggested otherwise. I awoke in motion, dragged by my feet along some dim corridor of stinking heat, my shoulders raw and my head clanking against the jagged floor. A figure pulled me along, its face turned away from me, its claws clamped on my ankles. As I gathered my senses, I wrested free my legs and scrambled backwards. My would-be captor turned, and I saw a sickening truth—I saw what had become of Warchief Malach.
My trusted friend Malach—he who I had assumed dead by ogre's hands, he whose position of warchief I had taken so fatefully—now stood, impossibly, before me. His jaw and lips were gone, replaced by a ring of oily spikes around his gaping tongue. His exposed ribcage lolled open like iron gates, revealing foreign organs and clenching mechanisms that did not belong. Most horrible were his eyes, left mercilessly human—eyes that saw, and blinked, and pleaded to me.
The newly Phyrexian Malach lunged at me with hungry talons, and I ran back down the corridor, feeling every pain in my frame. I ran through clouds of steam and past glowing-red apertures, hearing Malach's jawless snarls just behind me. With every step I felt the pain of my wounds growing. I was sure I would fall, and I would be made to join Phyrexia by the machine-infested corpse of my former warchief.
I emerged into the chamber where I must have descended through the crust—for I found most of the Battle of Oxid Ridge there in a heap before me. Phyrexian bodies lay crushed on top of one another, including the two dead coils of the unholy wurm. I also saw Mirran survivors—humans, two leonin, and a goblin, struggling and yelling—as Phyrexian horrors dragged them away.
If I had stopped to help them, I now tell myself, Malach would have captured me. That is what I must believe. That is the burning flame I hold in my heart. So instead of helping them, I turned. I turned away from my fellow Mirrans and I threw myself into the husk of Malach. I tore at him savagely, my metallic arms ripping soft tissue from inside his iron ribs, my jagged forehead butting into his gruesome face. I was a madman, a senseless killer, unaware of my violence. His tongue laughed at me as I pummeled him to the ground, a coughing and evil sound. But I believe his eyes thanked me.
I screamed with all my rage, all the despair that had crept into my heart and into my world. As Malach lay dead or inoperable, I looked around me and realized what I had done. I had let Phyrexians haul away living Mirrans—living people for whom all was not yet lost.
If I have it my way, I will never see you again, sister. I am sure you'll lead our people to great victories, and that the surface will be cleansed, one day, of the Phyrexian threat. I'm sure you will do your best to spread my story in favorable light, and yet I'm sure I will still be known as the Traitor of Oxid Ridge. Be that as it may, I have work that I must finish. I shall never seek the surface again, nor shall I seek solace in one of the Mirran camps hidden in this layer. I am a shadow now, a skulker of corridors—but there is still a fire in my heart. I hunt those Phyrexian horrors that captured my Mirran brothers and sisters in arms, and in the darkness I slay them, as I did Malach. I'm sure I have only a short time to survive among the furnaces, but as long as I can fight, I shall. I can only hope, for the sake of Mirrodin, that you live longer than I.