An Unlikely Believer
Nahiri was primed for a fight that was never to come, although she did not know that yet. So certain of her plan that Nahiri did not wait by the Drownyard to see the Eldrazi titan to be summoned to the focal point of her cryptoliths; instead she waited in the ruins of Sorin’s home, the Markov Manor. Nahiri did not wait alone, she didn't expect Sorin to confront her by himself and so an army of brainwashed cultists and Eldrazi abominations were waiting with her. The trap was set, the plan was in motion, all that remained was the arrival of her adversary.
The longer Nahiri had to wait, the more restless she became. She tried to focus on the weight of the stone-forged blade in her hand to keep her mind grounded, but from every wall of the manor she was stared upon by distorted faces of Markov vampires, now forever bound to the stone by her own lithomancy. Furthermore, the wails of creatures twisted into horrors and chants of cultists made it near impossible to focus and think clearly. Nahiri realised too late that perhaps she did not choose the best environment to wait for Sorin, but she was determined to see it through. Though she removed herself from the madness by waiting at the rooftop.
Eventually the feeling at the back of her mind that something went wrong grew into something she could no longer ignore. She felt the titan’s presence approaching through the Blind Eternities but something was not allowing Emrakul to simply cross into Innistrad, and then when the presence was at its zenith, something unthinkable happened. From the rooftop Nahiri saw that Emrakul was there, dominating the Innistrad’s skyline, but not for long. The Eldrazi titan was, for lack of a better word, sucked into the moon.
“How?!” Nahari was bewildered. She remembered that Sorin had a similar power, from when he imprisoned her in the Helvault; has he developed even greater power to trap Emrakul herself? Nahiri didn’t know what to think, but her survival instinct was telling her to run, and so she did. Nahiri ran to the only place where she felt safe, her home plane of Zendikar.
Avacyn’s mind did not know how to process the journey through the Blind Eternities. The ignition of her spark was violent and the journey was not pleasant.
When Avacyn’s boots hit solid ground she dropped to her hands and knees, and coughed. Only when the convulsions of her breathing stopped, did the ground beneath her come into focus. Avacyn’s long white hair framed her view like a curtain, and the first thing she saw was that her black gloved hands were buried in what felt like white sand, but it was unlike any sand she ever experienced on Innistrad. Slowly, Avacyn raised her head and the curtain parted, revealing a monochrome, desolate landscape. It was then that she realised she wasn’t kneeling in sand, it was dust that eerily reassembled bone-dust, devoid of any colour and life.
In that moment Avacyn also became aware that she was not alone.
If Nahiri suspected that her own mind was being corrupted by Emrakul back on Innistrad, she might have actually believed it now. In the distance she could see a creature that did not belong on this plane. The angels of Zendikar did not have white, blood stained wings and dark outfits. The feeling of seeing such a creature before became a moment of clarity, and Nahiri knew who that angel was. Nahiri also knew it was not possible for Sorin’s creation to be on Zendikar. The angel was bound to her plane, like everyone and everything else that did not possess the planewalker’s spark.
And yet, there she was. Nahiri’s initial shock was quickly replaced by defensive reflexes; if the angel was here then so was Sorin, surely looking to kill her for what she has done to his home, his bloodline and his plane. To Nahari the best defence was offence, and so she wasted no more time and conjured a spell to bind the angel to the stone.
Avacyn didn’t need to see the person behind her to feel the surge of energy that preluded the spell that caused the ground to open beneath her. She narrowly avoided being trapped by pushing herself into the air. The gust of her wings was accompanied by a cloud of dust, and before it even settled, Avacyn saw the dust being illuminated from within by fire. She dodged the elemental strike, and instinctively tried to retaliate with a blast from her spear but only then became fully aware that she was without it. Momentarily Avacyn was startled because she could not remember the last time she was without her spear.
The lapse of focus was exploited by a spike of molten rock. Avacyn was far more durable than any mortal, but the strike hurt nevertheless. At least the pain brought her back into the moment. She flew further away and up from her assailant. In the heat of battle there was no time to question why Avacyn was able to channel energy through her hands, when before she always used her spear, she was just thankful that she wasn’t powerless without it and responded to fire with holy light.
Avacyn saw her assailant for the first time when Nahiri burst forth from the dust cloud, propelling herself through the air on a stone platform. Avacyn recognised the person, but had no time to act on this knowledge. The lithomancer was surrounded by fire and stone, showing no hesitation as she flung one after the other at Avacyn. The angel avoided Nahiri’s attacks by keeping distance between them. Above the ground, Avacyn was in her element, she spent all her life in the heavens and no mage could hope to best an angel at flying.
“Where is Sorin?! Nahiri snarled as she sent another spell to attack the angel.
Avacyn did not respond. She didn’t know how long she could maintain the distance where she was able to dodge the incoming missiles, and she didn’t have enough control over her own powers to defeat Nahiri. The best she could hope for was defending herself until the lithomancer tired out.
“I know he is here!” More shouts accompanied the attacks as Nahiri continued her assault. So blinded by her rage that Nahiri paid no heed to how high they were climbing. Slowly but surely the stone Nahiri summoned as ammunition for her spells whittled away, until eventually her gesture was not followed by a molten spike. This was the first pause in her attacks.
Nahiri stopped propelling the platform she was standing on, contemplating her dilemma. She didn’t want to let the angel get away, but pursuing her further into the sky would be fruitless. For a moment the two stared at each other in silence; Nahiri fuming in anger as Avacyn hovered out of her reach. The angel was the first to break the silence;
“He is dead, Harbinger.” Avacyn stated flatly, her hands cradling a sphere of white energy, ready to protect herself if Nahiri attacked again.
Nahiri’s aggressive posture softened slightly, surprised by Avacyn’s statement. She then asked, her voice still angry; “Why should I believe you?”
“I don’t care if you believe me, but he is gone. I have no quarrel with you.” Avacyn was truthful. The only time she attacked Nahiri was under Sorin’s influence, and the vampire then trapped Nahiri in the Helvault. As far as Avacyn was concerned, they were both victims of Sorin’s monstrous nature.
Nahiri hesitated, her mind swarmed with thoughts. Could it be true? Could Sorin really be dead? Why would Avacyn lie to her? Could angels even lie? Nahiri didn’t know what to think but since Sorin did not attack her yet, she took a chance and lowered her stone-forged sword, relaxing her posture even further.
“How did it happen?” Nahiri asked, willing to at least hear the angel out.
“The vampire attempted to unmake me. I saw the truth and he could not bear that I was no longer enslaved. I gave him no further chance to inflict his evil onto my world, or any other.” Avacyn also dispelled her own spell, sensing no further threat from Nahiri.
Avacyn saw the lithomancer nod, perhaps accepting the truth. However, Nahiri was still suspicious; “If he is dead, how did you get here?”
“I do not know.” Avacyn shrugged, and briefly looked at the foreign landscape below her. “I don’t even know where here is. After I had bound Emeria to the moon, I was torn from my world and arrived here.”
“Emeria?” Nahiri was puzzled. Emeria was a merfolk goddess, known as Kamsa to Nahiri’s kind. How could Avacyn have met Emeria on Innistrad? Then the puzzle pieces connected in her mind. “Emrakul, you’ve bound an Eldrazi titan?” She asked in disbelief. Sudden nausea threatened to overwhelm her, so Nahiri took a few deep breaths as she carefully paced on her platform. Then turned to Avacyn again and spread her arms out in a gesture. “How?!”
“What cannot be destroyed must be bound. Such is the rule of Innistrad.” Avacyn replied calmly. She didn’t understand Nahiri’s confusion. Perhaps because she didn’t know who Emrakul was, or an Eldrazi titan. But Avacyn knew the bounding spell was supposed to work on anyone, a creature of mana or otherwise.
“This makes no sense.” Nahiri sounded incredulous as she sat down on the stone platform, which then began to descend. Avacyn followed Nahiri towards the ground, but maintained some distance.
When Avacyn touched the desolate ground of bone and dust again, she furled her wings around her body protectively. It reminded her too much of the visions given to her by Emeria, and she would have preferred not to be in contact with it, but seemingly Nahiri desired closer proximity to the land, and so Avacyn overcame her revulsion for the time being. Nahiri was taking her time to process everything, sitting cross-legged and clutching her head.
“You have a spark.” Nahiri eventually murmured when she came to the conclusion. Nahiri could not recall ever hearing that a creation could be bestowed with the planeswalker spark, but here she was, Avacyn was on Zendikar, without being summoned.
“A spark?” Avacyn asked with curiosity.
“It is what allows us to travel between planes.” Nahiri explained, looking up at the angel, her arms resting on her legs. When Avacyn tilted her head slightly, Nahiri added; “Planes of existence, different worlds. They are all connected by the Blind Eternities, and the spark allows us to travel through the Multiverse.”
“What world… plane, is this?” Avacyn asked.
“Zendikar.” Nahiri replied. “My home.”
“What happened to it?” Avacyn gestured around her, unfurling her wings for a moment as she did so. Her tone was infused with sympathy.
“Sorin betrayed me.” For a moment Nahiri felt her anger spike, but then continued with sorrow in her voice. “Thousands of years ago we trapped the titans here, to stop them. When the prison weakened, Sorin refused to help and imprisoned me on Innistrad. The Eldrazi ravaged Zendikar in my absence. Emrakul, who you know as Emeria, was one of them. I wanted to make him pay, but if he is dead…” Nahiri trailed off into silence, staring at her hands. She eventually admitted quietly. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Do you know how Emeria found Innistrad?” Avacyn suspected she knew the answer to her question but wanted to hear Nahiri confirm it.
Nahiri nodded. She didn’t see the point in denying it. She didn’t hate Avacyn or the inhabitants of Innistrad, they were simply collateral damage on her quest for revenge.
“I guided the titan there. I wanted Sorin to feel the same pain I have, to make Innistrad bleed as Zendikar bled.” As Nahiri confessed to the protector of Innistrad that she wanted to destroy the plane, she expected the angel might attack her and was ready to spring to her feet if that happened. It is what she would have done if she was in Avacyn’s position, but the angel’s outward reaction was mild; she furrowed her eyebrows, crossed her arms and hugged her body with her wings more closely.
Avacyn contemplated Nahiri for a long moment. She wanted to be angry, and suspected that before her mind was freed, before she could decide for herself, she would not have hesitated to attack the lithomancer, to make her pay for the injustice inflicted on the people of Innistrad. Yet, the predominant emotion she felt was sorrow. Those affected by the titan’s influence, and those killed by the angels, could not be brought back to life; they could only be guided in the Blessed Sleep by the Flight of Alabaster. Avacyn could not claim to understand the mortal emotions she felt since Sorin’s death, or how to deal with them; it was something she would need to learn as much as using the planewalker’s spark.
Nahiri waited for Avacyn to say something. When she did, the angel spoke quietly. “I have commanded my angels to do blasphemous acts in my name. I do not know how many innocent lives were lost. Perhaps I could blame you or my creator, but the angels followed my commands, not yours or his. I cannot condemn you anymore than I would have to condemn myself.”
Nahiri didn’t know how to respond to that. She wasn’t going to apologise because in her mind her actions were justified, and she would have done it again if Sorin was still alive. When the silence stretched on for too long, Nahiri shrugged and stood up. There was nothing more to say, and if they weren’t going to fight, she supposed it was time to leave.
“Harbinger, wait.” Avacyn called out when Nahiri turned around and began to walk away. “I need your help. I don’t know how to return to Innistrad.” She admitted, fear briefly seizing her heart at the thought of being stranded on Zendikar. She had to return, somehow, to make sure the people of Innistrad were safe and to reassure her angels, and Gisela most of all.
Nahiri turned around and crossed her arms. She remembered how Sorin taught her how to cross the Multiverse, all those millennia ago, and she was not keen on the idea of teaching his creation to do the same. If nothing else, the angel was a reminder of his betrayal, and the destruction of her home. The reluctance had to show on her face, for Avacyn pressed on with her plea.
“Help me, and I’ll help you.” Avacyn proposed. The angel’s eyes were not human, they were entirely white, devoid of a pupil or an iris, and yet still somehow coveted sympathy when Avacyn said; "There is a void in your heart where there should be faith."
Nahiri was stunned, and it took her a moment to formulate a response. "Faith?” She offered a bitter laugh, then pointed at Avacyn “What do you know about faith? You are not even a real angel, just a creation to safeguard Sorin’s human stock. You are no better than he was!”
“Sorin was a cruel creator, but my nature is not determined by the monster who created me.” Avacyn retorted, not taking the bait. “I know about faith. I hear prayers every moment of my existence. I am to protect.”
Nahiri’s expression darkened, but any further resentful remarks died on her tongue when she avoided the angel’s gaze and her own sight swept around their surroundings. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but a lifeless husk of an unnaturally twisted landscape. Nahiri, who once stood proud, now looked defeated and guilt ridden. It was difficult to admit that she felt devoid of purpose. She knew not all of Zendikar was destroyed, but so much was gone, so many lives lost. Suddenly Nahiri felt like the void the angel mentioned might be real, and it angered her.
“Look around! I failed to protect them!” Nahiri suddenly yelled out, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. “I tried to avenge my home, but you took it from me!”
“We both have our burdens to bear.” Avacyn pressed on. “The innocent should not suffer in the hands of evil. We can ensure no worlds suffer as ours have. I have heard their prayers, all of them, they need me.” Avacyn paused to give weight to her point; “And right now, I need you, Harbinger. I need to return home.”
Nahiri angrily wiped her eyes. Somewhere among the ashes of her burnt out flame for vengeance, embers were reacting to Avacyn’s words. Millennia ago Nahiri agreed to protect the Multiverse from the Eldrazi. She was betrayed and failed. She couldn’t protect her own plane, but perhaps she could save others. The absurdity of teaching an angel how to planeswalk was not lost on Nahiri. It was unheard of, but stranger things have happened in the Multiverse. Nahiri looked up towards the heavens, closed her eyes and took a deep breath before voicing her decision.
“Okay, I will help you.” Nahiri offered her hand. “But stop calling me Harbinger. I am Nahiri.”
“Avacyn.” The angel offered a rare smile as they sealed their agreement with a handshake; the mortal gesture amusing Avacyn. The deal was struck and the seeds of faith were planted in the most unlikely believer.