The World of Alara Part III: The Conflux

The Vorthos Guide to Magic: The Gathering
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Welcome back to Archive Trap, the unofficial guide to Magic: the Gathering. Today we will dive in to Alara's story... and it amazes even me that it took more than 5,000 words to get here! Alara's lore is really dense, so in Part I we took a look at the world building of each plane. In Part II we talked about the characters and the backstory of the plane itself. Today we will dive into the story of a Nacatl pariah you might know: Ajani Goldmane. The Ajani we meet in Alara Unbroken is not the same figure we know and love. Alara actually takes place before his first planeswalker card, before he was considered the wise mentor he is commonly thought of as today. This Ajani is angry, he is ostracized by his tribe and even hunted by humans because of the color of his fur. When his world is turned upside down one fateful night, he goes on a quest for vengeance and leaves several bodies in his wake.

P.S. - What a time to be an Alara fan! In the time since we published Legends of the Sundered Plane, Wizards revealed three new legendary creatures from Alara! The first is Silas Renn, an old rival of Tezzeret's from the Seeker's Academy (You can read about their rivalry in The Seeker's Fall). The next is Breya, an Esper wizard who has rediscovered the key to making etherium. The third is Yidris, an ogre from Grixis and one of the Incurables who has found power in the Maelstrom.

You can read about all three in It's Time to Talk Commander (2016 Edition)!,

This is way more accurate than Conflux's key art (featuring Ajani & Rafiq).
Alara Unbroken cover art by Chris Rahn
The Conflux The novel Alara Unbroken is made up of chapters that are divided up by plane. It tends to jump around a lot, which keeps things interesting and fast-paced but does not work well for a summary since some chapters can be summed up in a single sentence. As such, I am rearranging the order here to make a little more narrative sense. Rather than jumping from plane to plane and character to character, I am sticking with one point of view until it becomes necessary to switch. I should note that this novel has a number of side plots with characters who are never named again. I removed those that are not strictly necessary for this recap (and feature characters who will likely never be mentioned again). If you are looking for a place to jump in to Magic's lore, Alara Unbroken is one of the best places to do it (next to Agents of Artifice, of course).

On Grixis, deep under the Necropolis at Kederekt, Malfegor brings forth two supplicants to Nicol Bolas. The two have been divining the future and discovered that the five shards of Alara would collide into one again, potentially destroying everything. Bolas is amused, and wipes one of their minds as a 'reward' for stumbling across what Bolas had been waiting for. Bolas is old at over 20,000 years, even by Elder Dragon standards, and after the Mending he feels it. He has been working toward his goal on Alara for generations (possibly before the Mending, but that is not clear). He wishes to restore the god-like power he lost following the Mending, and he plans on using the mana generated by the approaching rebirth of Alara to do it.

On Bant, Gwafa Hazid leads his caravan to Castle Giltspire in Akrasa when he is stopped by a Knight of the Bright Dove. The knight wants to check Gwafa's inventory for illegal goods but Gwafa, being a smuggler and con artist dealing in counterfeit and illicit goods, has other plans. He distracts the knight as one of his minions circles around to stab the knight in the back. At the last second, Gwafa warns the knight, who turns in time to defeat the would-be assassin. This buys him no favors, however, and the knight continues to insist on seeing the cargo. Frustrated that his ploy did not work, Gwafa swiftly stabs the knight and leaves him for dead, abandoning the would-be assassin to take the blame. Gwafa eventually reaches Castle Giltspire and immediately sets his caravan about surrounding it. More Bright Dove Knights approach them, and Gwafa distracts the Knights until his caravan gets into place. Once they are in position, the wagons throw off their tarps to reveal mages and spell circles underneath - all of which begin chanting at once. As they do so, the castle crumbles, revealing a single obelisk in the remains. Gwafa looks on in horror, whatever he thought was going to happen, he did not expect this.

Rafiq spends the whole book learning life is not fair.
Rafiq of the Many by Michael Komarck
Elsewhere on Bant, Rafiq of the Many finishes a prayer as his rhox friend and ally Mubin urges him out into the arena. He is settling a dispute for Valeron through ritual combat, something he has done so often he is almost drowning in sigils, although this time Aarisil the Blessed and members of the Skyward Eye want to speak with him after the match. Mubin, as Rafiq's second, fights in the first match as Rafiq considers what the Blessed and the Skyward Eye could want with him. In the arena, Mubin handily defeats the three young squires sent to fight him, turning the next match over to Rafiq. Rafiq squares off against the three mercenaries chosen as opposing champions. At first, he believes them to be inexperienced, but he catches a glimpse of enchantment on their blades and quickly realizes he misjudged them. One makes an illegal strike to Rafiq's head, and Rafiq is surprised at both the move and that the judge does not stop the fight. The mercenaries all begin using illegal moves and begin to overwhelm Rafiq until he is finally cut along his back, where his armor does not cover. Rafiq's shock is palpable at being cut: despite being one of Bant's finest warriors, he has never been sliced by a blade before.

For this to make sense, you need to understand something about Bant. All of Bant's combat is honorable, and frequently ceremonial. Rafiq is an amazing swordsman, but he has never fought to the death before. For most of the story, he just cannot handle the dishonorable tactics he is put up against. So of course, Rafiq begins to declare that he will defeat his cheating foes honorably. In response, the mercenaries remove their armor - ensuring that Rafiq's own sword attacks would kill them - something he is loath to do. Still, he manages to win his battle in a supreme display of skill and character - all without killing the mercenaries. Afterwards, Aarsil the Blessed reveals it was a test set for Rafiq, one he passed, for she had need of a special kind of champion. Rafiq is sent to the ruins of Castle Giltspire to investigate its destruction. Along the way, he and Mubin discover that the Skyward Eye has spread the prophecy of Asha across the land, and dire warnings that a war with 'the underworld' is coming. When they arrive at Giltspire, they quickly learn that Gwafa Hazid caused the destruction and is on the run. They leave immediately to track him down. Gwafa had almost escaped across the border to Valeron when Rafiq and Mubin catch up with him. While returning with Gwafa, the Knights encounter earthquakes unlike anything they experienced before. Rafiq begins to believe it is the return of Asha foretold by the Skyward Eye.

On Naya, Ajani stalks a gargantuan from the treetops. His plan is to earn the respect of his pride by bringing home such a grand offering. As the only white-furred Nacatl, he is ostracized by the rest of his clan (presumably a tribe made up of "Creature - Cat Jerkface"). It is only due to his brother Jazal, the Kha (chief) of his pride, that Ajani has not been kicked out. Ajani's white fur is so unpopular, he remembers a time when his pride was attacked by humans while on a hunt and the humans seemed to target him over anyone else. He has determined only a feat worthy of the legendary Marisi himself would be adequate to earn his people's respect. Unfortunately for Ajani, he spends too much time thinking and is forced to action when the gargantuan gets his scent. He quickly discovers his axe will not be enough to fell the beast when it is flung from his grasp into the branches of a tree above. He manages to get a grip while on top of the beast, and uses its bucking as momentum to leap up into the trees - and potential escape. Instead of fleeing, however, he grabs the haft of his axe... which promptly breaks and drops him back to the forest floor.

Once Ajani goes vengeant, you generally do not want to get in his way.
Lightning Helix by Raymond Swanland
On his way back down, Ajani's fall is broken by the gargantuan's face, and he is there just long enough to slam the broken axe between the beast's eyes. He tumbles the rest of the way to the ground next to the now-dead gargantuan. He is laying on the ground, recovering, when he is found by Tenoch, a bully, and Tenoch's gang. At first they disbelieve Ajani's story, then they realize he intends to bring the meat as an offering for the upcoming festival celebrating Marisi. Ajani offers to share credit and asks for their help stripping the carcass - in the hopes that the gesture offsets the bullies' natures. It does not. Within seconds they decide to claim credit for the gargantuan kill, knowing no one would believe Ajani. Just to be sure, they beat him down and leave him on the jungle floor. In the midst of it, Ajani has a revelation - he is able to see inside of Tenoch's soul - and thinks it is beautiful like a sculpture. Ajani's attempt to communicate this newfound revelation is cut short by being knocked unconscious. Surprise, bullies do not like it when you reveal they are secretly beautiful inside. When he wakes up, the gargantuan meat is stripped and the bullies are long gone. Ajani returns home to lick his wounds. Before he can return to his lair, a childhood friend named Zaliki intercepts him and offers (in the you-cannot-refuse kind of way) to bandage his wounds. They talk, and she sees the truth of the situation and gives Ajani a pep talk. She also asks if they will remain friends no matter what, and Ajani agrees before he leaves.

Red flag, Ajani. No one asks you if you will be friends no matter what if good things are about to happen.

During the Festival for Marisi the Wild, Ajani sits and tries fruitlessly to repair his axe. His brother, Jazal, gets up to tell the story about how Marisi freed them from the false life as Cloud Nacatl, bound by a code called the Coil. Amused, Ajani reflects on how his brother shares his doubts about Marisi's heroism - but only in private. He notices Zaliki leave, and follows her to his brother's lair, where she retrieves something but knocks over some papers in the process. Ajani, having noticed that his brother and now Zaliki were acting weird, is surprised to find research about myths surrounding white Nacatl - namely him - and indications that he is the target of something sinister. Ajani returns to hear his brother finish his speech, about how the Claws of Marisi destroyed Antali, the Sky Nacatl capital. Awkwardness prevents him from asking his brother about the research that night, and Ajani heads to sleep. Later that night, Tenoch is on guard duty (and mostly asleep) when a hooded figure slips past, dropping something into the fire. The fire spits out shadow creatures that begin to lay waste to the clan's home. Ajani helps his clan fight off the shadow creatures, but hears Tenoch cry for help for the Kha. When he arrives at his brother's cave, Zaliki tries to block his path, but he shoves past and discovers his brother dead by his own axe. Ajani clutches his brother's body and begins to hear his brother's voice. His brother tells him everything will be all right, but Ajani rejects his brother's voice as a dream and in his rage and grief, his spark ignites. He is transported to the blind eternities, where he sees all five shards slowly coming into alignment before being drawn on to one of the shards.

It is not entirely clear whether Jazal actually speaks to Ajani as a spirit or not, but given that it only happens on Naya (where Jazal's spirit would be) and later on the reborn Alara, I am leaning toward this actually being Jazal and not a grief hallucination.

On Jund, Rakka Mar, an old (by Jund standards, where 50 is ancient) and expert elemental shaman, makes a speech to clan Antaga assembled before her. She was recruited by Bolas a year earlier, and is helping him with an unknown scheme. Her current task is to convince her newly adopted tribe and its Tol (chief) Kresh that they must fight and kill a mighty dragon named Malactoth. She lies and says that the dragon's territory will soon expand to their tribe's land. Her speech works, and the tribe plans to attack the next day - counting on the support of Rakka and her elementals to help defeat the dragon. Along the path to Malactoth's lair, Mount Jhal, she and Kresh are ambushed at a tar pit by Viashino. They lose almost a third of their warriors, but Rakka insists they continue rather than turn back for reinforcements. A now suspicious Kresh reluctantly agrees.

Sarkhan is not what you would call the most stable individual, even before Bolas.
Violent Ultimatum by Raymond Swanland
Sarkhan Vol reminisces about his home (later to be revealed as Tarkir), and how he ascended as a planeswalker (from the whispers of a long-dead Dragon! The Ugin plot was planned for Sarkhan from very early on.). He wants to find a dragon worthy of his reverence, and by chance encounters Kresh Tol Antaga and his clan. They allow him to join their hunt, all the while he muses how he has seen their like burn in dragonfire on dozens of worlds. When Kresh's battle with the dragon begins, his warriors are spurred on by Sarkhan - but Rakka delays. Rakka reveals her deception and forces a battle with the dragon earlier than the clan is ready for. Sarkhan, to help, turns into a flaming dragon. Rakka reveals that she works for Bolas and Kresh's tribe was merely a distraction. She finishes setting the real spell she was working on and brings down the cavern around the Antaga clan. Even Sarkhan is trapped until one of Rakka's elementals frees him for an unknown purpose. The collapse of the mountain reveals an obelisk made of sangrite, swelling with power. If that was Rakka's goal, Sarkhan wonders, why was she not using it?

It is at this time that a dazed Ajani, freshly arrived on Jund, finds the sense to flee when a flood of goblins come charging at him. He flees even faster when he realizes that a giant hellkite, Karrthus, was hunting the goblins and has now scented him. He is only saved by the timely intervention of Sarkhan, who scares away the Hellkite. Sarkhan gives Ajani some pointers on red magic and planeswalking, but leaves his new acquaintance behind. Ajani dives into a pool of lava after Sarkhan, and the immediate danger allows him to planeswalk again.

Ajani arrives back on Naya, at the ruins of the former Sky Nacatl capital, Antali. There he finds a single old shaman, who leads him to where the Coil was destroyed, and forces him to confront his unspoken thought: he wants to kill the being that murdered his brother. He returns home and mourns over his brother's cremated remains. There, Ajani speaks with Zaliki before determing Tenoch must have had something to do with Jazal's death. He investigates the fire where all the shadow creatures emerged, and in the ashes, he finds a black dragon's scale. Ajani confronts Tenoch on a cliff and dangles him, Batman-style, over the ledge for answers. Tenoch reveals that his mother, an elder, warned him to stay away that night but that he did not listen. Ajani tries to pull Tenoch back safely, but ends up falling himself and having to cling to Tenoch, who kicks him off. With falling off cliffs becoming a habit, Ajani planeswalks away. Elsewhere on Naya, Bolas meets with the ancient but preserved Marisi, who created the schism among the Nacatl generations ago as a part of Bolas's plan. Bolas needs more conflict now, and demands the elves be dragged into it. Marisi suggests using their faith in Progenitus and their young priestess Mayael.

Back on Jund, Sarkhan tracks down Rakka. She convinces him to hear her out, and that she can provide what he wants: a dragon worthy of his servitude. He follows her to meet her master, Bolas. With little hesitation, Sarkhan swears fealty, believing Bolas to be the dragon he hoped for, even though Bolas does not act with the savagery he expects. Sarkhan tells Bolas that he is not the only planeswalker around.

So... does Elsepth have black hair (above) or brown?
Ardent Plea by Chippy
On Esper, a lighthouse keeper on the Cliffs of Ot is made an offer he cannot refuse by the Seekers of Carmot. He must become a Telemin in their service or lose his home. The lighthouse keeper must wear a weighted suit as a Telemin, and forced into the ocean. He is used as bait for a Leviathan, which kills him and leaves behind the Esper obelisk after. Sarkhan is revealed to have been with the Seeker, and now working for Bolas.

Back on Bant, Elspeth Tirel finally enters the picture (almost a third of the way into the book) as the haunted survivor of her nightmarish home plane. She fled from plane to plane until she found Bant, her own little slice of paradise. On Bant, in her assumed life she hid her magical powers and became a knight while still a young woman. She is almost forced to reveal herself as a mage when she hastily casts a spell to protect a subordinate from a potentially deadly training accident, but the day is saved by the discovery of Ajani, laying wounded nearby in the grass (his momentum seems to have carried through the planeswalk with him). Elspeth has him brought to clerics and cared for, and Ajani convalesces on Bant for almost two weeks. He and Elspeth develop a bond and become friends in that time, and he imparts news of the impending planar catastrophe to her. Elspeth does not take the news well; her paradise is about to be shattered. The two have a heated argument, ending with Ajani deciding he is well enough to return to Naya. He is gone before Elspeth can return to him and apologize.

Upon his return to Naya, Ajani is still weakened from his ordeal. He enters a fugue state, and wakes up to find himself in his brother's room. Knowing that he still needs to avenge his brother, he combines both of their axes into one double-headed axe. Ajani approaches Tenoch's mother (Chimamatl) in her lair but is blocked by a thicket elemental. After a short scuffle, he channels his rage into a brutal spell that chars the elemental. After some failed intimidation, Ajani learns from Chimamatl that it was Marisi himself who killed his brother. Elswhere, Marisi heads to the Relic of Progenitus with another black dragon scale. Marisi finishes with the Relic and makes to leave, but as he does, he stumbles across Ajani. He attempts to pretend he is not Marisi, but Ajani is having none of it. He reveals that Bolas is behind everything - just as an earthquake sends Ajani reeling, interrupting the interrogation. Ajani rolls down a hill into Mayael the Anima, on her way to the relic of Progenitus to consult it for guidance in these troubled times. She sends Ajani away with the black scale bowl Marisi planted there, and consults the relic. A vision of Progenitus appears to her, and demands she prepare for war. Ajani wants to track down the source of the black scale, but when he goes to planeswalk he does so moments before the planes realign, and the five shards collide.

The five shards collide violently, with the plane's heart sparking a small Mana Confluence, the Conflux. Bolas watches from the Blind Eternities. He has nothing to do with the planar collision, but he has spent a lesser being's lifetime manipulating the situation to his benefit. Now the time has come to harness the power of the Conflux.

Thanks for reading! The Conflux is upon us, but does Ajani have what it takes to stop Nicol Bolas's plan? Can he stop playing Batman long enough to get the job done? We will find out next time!

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments or on the forum, and we will address it in future updates. Have a suggestion for something you want to see? Let us know, and we may address it in a future column. You can also follow me on twitter @Jay13x or Archive Trap Mini on Tumblr.


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