Welcome to Flavortown - Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Jubilee Finnegan • August 25, 2022

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite | Illustrated by Igor Kieryluk

The Grand Work of Compleation

Within her fortress, the Mother of Machines listened close to the skittering of her servants. The myr she commanded, now contorted by the ichor and glistening oil that poured from her hands, went about managing the various facilities of the Machine Orthodoxy's Abiding Grace. In the constant war against the dying embers of the Mirran Resistance, Elesh Norn wondered if they did not realize the sheer amount of work it took to manage the various aspects of the plane. With just a day's lapse in her rule, the intricate Phyrexian machinery would crumble.

Did the mad warriors who called themselves iconoclasts truly think they could create something that could come close to imitating her perfect compleation? She had brought chaos to an aimless land, one ravaged by chaotic forces of an ever-shifting realm. No matter. In time, all would see the value in her blessing.

Arising from her porcelain throne, her daggered hands screeched and scratched against the walls as she strolled down the long hallway. The servants bowed as her flowing metallic robes brushed past them. Like a sculptor placing their finest pieces on display, Norn filled her halls with what she considered to be her greatest accomplishments of compleation. Already, the room was abuzz with worshipers offering pleas and tithes to the Mother of Machines. Rushing to her side, a young leonin with plates of metal molded to his arms averted his eyes, offering up a plate of materials to her. Invaluable gold, darksteel, and diamonds glistened. Offerings from the Suture Priests of lower castes. A kind kit. The type of phyrexian that gave her hope for the Great Work's future. The feline face of the peasant grimaced under the buckling weight. With one swift motion, she dismissed the boy.

"Distribute them amongst the soldiers on the eastern front. Their bodies will become symbols. You have done well."

She knew the look of amazement in the boy's eye. To be told by what was the goddess of this world that you had committed an act of great worth was a powerful thing. Norn recognized that compleation was a two-step process. If all it was was stitching some metal to any odd creature, Vorinclex's ilk would have had a more successful revolt. Instead, one had to mold their minds to understand that rule beneath compleation was the ideal way to evolve sapience. Once they saw the glory that their Mother of Machines brought, a new dawn could arise to Phyrexia.

In her ruminations, she almost didn't notice the artificer approaching her, but her lumbering assistant, a golem partially made of excess flesh from resistance fighters and held together with blightsteel, alerted her to their presence. The woman, once human, held in her hands a scroll case embossed with glittering steel. Bile and filth pumped itself through tubes attached to her body, as if a new piece of Phyrexia would burst from within at any moment.

"Would you lend me a moment of your time, your highness? I have news from Taj-Nar which would interest you." The artificer spoke, draping her body into a bow. It was uncommon for such a lowly member of the castes to be so direct. So uncommon that it drew something verging upon admiration in Norn.

"Speak of it then." Norn's phyrexian vocal chords clashed sharply. "Taj-Nar is a great asset for our war against Kemba's radicals."

"There's been... there's been disruptions in the leylines." The artificer said as she stepped forward. "Omens of something great, my praetor." The praetor's eyes widened.

"Meet me at the altar. Bring your fleshling creation." 

The holy church held two relics of long forgotten eras. First, an altar upon which the Father of Machines once held services, the other a product of his prophet, Ashnod. Here, the artificer stood across from her. Norn, easily a few meters taller than her, was in imposing figure, yet she kept eye contact with the praetor, unblinking.

"My name is Qal-Sha. My work is as a Razor Field technician. We monitor the goings-on of all Phyrexia's infrastructure, both physical and mana-based. The artificer spoke in perfect monotone. "Whilst I was crafting my latest assistant," her hands traced the outline of the golem's form, "I noticed a strange spike in energy at the moment of its inception."

"Regular manifestations of chaotic forces. Dispatch a triniform to handle any sentient manifestations and be done with it." Elesh responded curtly. Simple theories from a rambling scientist should not disgrace the timetables of compleation.

"That's just it, Grand Cenobite. It wasn't that. These spikes in energy occurred only when a new phyrexian was compleated or created. Exactly at the moment." The scroll case unfurled, producing a map of the Razor Fields. Lines of energy shot across the map, as if the very forces of the plane had made warpaths through the steel. Gesturing to the center, they converged on one point. "And they meet here. Right in the middle of Taj-Nar. Records show that it's at an ancient shrine of some sort. But it requires the blessing of a great leader of Phyrexia to access." 

Norn gazed at Qal-Sha. Her mechanical mind weighed the pros and cons of the situation. She could be being led into a trap. Qal-Sha and her creation could be one of Tirel's radicals, meant to lure her into the middle of nowhere to be assassinated. Yet when she gazed at her stoic face, she saw the same glamor as in the young leonin boy. Belief in Phyrexia's influence. Elesh Norn traced the symbol onto the altar as she summoned her armaments to her side

"We make our journey now. Let us test the validity of your theory."

Qal-Sha was a wonderful navigator with a keen sense of direction. After the flesh artisans delivered them to the edges of the field, she was able to avoid the major dangers present. However, that did not mean the wilds of New Phyrexia were kind. Wild beasts, forgotten experiments of the Progress Tyrant, or contaminated flesh corpses would periodically approach Qal-Sha, circling her as if preparing a meal. But if any actually attempted anything, Norn could dispose of them.

A mad, rogue phyrexian attempted to strike the artificer. With a flick of her hands, Norn unraveled it into a mass of flesh tendrils and bone, skin unspooling from muscle with one simple spell. After a long journey, they managed to arrive at the spot just as the suns of New Phyrexia began to set. They each beheld a simple structure, an obelisk rooted into the ground with the symbol of Phyrexia engraved into it. 

"Where is the entrance to this shrine, splicer?" Norn asked. Qal-Sha scanned the horizons around them.

"This is all there is, o blessed one. All of my research tells me that the shrine must lie here, and that it requires a phyrexian prophet's words to unlock it."

For a moment, Norn wondered what this could mean. Watching the shrine as if she expected it to stand up and move, she attempted to ascertain what its origin might be. Scanning the coffers of phrexian knowledge, it appeared to be made up of an material not native to New Phyrexia. She spoke rumblings of her own work to the monument, sweet nothings of compleation, yet nothing stirred within the thing. It remained inanimate and dulled in the bristles of steel. Her claws raked against its sides, a vile screeching sound emitting from the metal. Nothing still. 

With a flick of her wrist, the fields began to rise up. Chunks of machinery tore themselves from the landscape and onto her body. A curved blade extending from her shoulders to her hands. With a single swing she attempted to bisect the obelisk, and a great burst rang out as the blade shuddered to a halt, not even making a mark.

Here, Elesh Norn froze, her mind working furiously as she attempted to make sense of a situation. Her blade could destroy blightsteel, had ravaged the inkmoths, even had felled the final defenses of the Moon Sage. Here, it was no more than a dulled piece of cutlery. Only one material could do this, something from long ago. As if bubbling from the phyrexian oil that ran through her synthetic veins, the praetor spoke an old prayer once lost to time:

"Let weak feed upon weak, that we may divine the nature of strength" 

"From void evolved Phyrexia. Great Yawgmoth, Father of Machines, saw its perfection. Thus the Grand Evolution began." 

"Ash is our air, darkness our flesh."

 "Father of Machines! Your filigree gaze carves us, and the scars dance upon our grateful flesh." 

"Great Yawgmoth moves across the seas of shard and bone and rust. We exalt him in life, in death, and in between."

Phyrexia's symbol glowed with golden light as the obelisk began to crack. The pieces of Rathi steel began to fall away, melting into the razor fields below. Qal-Sha watched with a twisted sort of envy. In this moment of shock, the blighted oil of the fields began to swallow her body whole. As she melted into the mass of glistening oil, her eyes never closed.

Within this structure was a gaping maw. A statue of a human man, oily black tears pouring down his mouth. The Great One. He Who Compleats. The one Norn spoke of in her prayers to the Father of Machines. Yawgmoth. For the first time since her embrace into the arms of Phyrexia, Elesh Norn knelt before it.

The energies of Phyrexian unity poured from the statue. Each being that arose in the name of Phyrexia on this plane had sent that first moment of dedication to this point. Swirling energy of compleation arose before her. Then, pouring from every crevice of the statue, Phyrexian creatures began to emerge. Waves of them, unrelenting, unyielding, untouched by the marks of flesh. Norn gazed upon her new subjects, then called to them in triumph:

"Hail Phyrexia! Hail Yawgmoth!" she screamed. "And hail I, the new Mother of Machines!" A thousand voices answered her. The thought of the last of Mirrodin's resistance hearing their sonorous battle cry brought a smile to her face. Here, Phyrexia felt invincible.

Jubilee Finnegan (they/them) is a writer based out of Southern California and student of Chapman University. They've been playing Magic since Throne of Eldraine and haven't stopped since. Their work has been published in Chapman Calliope, The B'K', and Beestung Quarterly. You can find them on Twitter @FinneyFlame or Instagram @JWFinnegan.