Welcome to Flavortown - Elsha of the Infinite
Elsha of the Infinite | Illustrated by G-Host Lee, | Graphic Design by Luminarch
A Love Across Timelines
How am I supposed to write this to you? I've gone through what feels like hundreds of drafts of this. When they told me of your death all those years ago, it took what felt like eons to accept that you were gone. Our people waged war against the Mardu Horde. A tireless war. So many lives were lost in the name of our greatest khan. Helmsmasher was felled, exiled from his people as we worked alongside the Mardu to free them from his tyranny. We mourned you, the first we lost, just as we mourned those who fell in your name. The Jeskai Way's future fell upon myself and the other abbots. With your death marking the end of an era, a new age was ushered in. When I was sworn in as Head Abbot of Sage-Eye, I made a vow to the woman I loved, who was lost due to the folly of the old ways. Your death was the foundation of the new Jeskai; your life, the framework it was built upon. Those who lead us now have buried our past beneath the bodies of those we lost. The new Jeskai have turned away from the dedication to our ancestors that had sustained us. Under the advice of the head monks, I forsook the material things you gave me. The flowers we found on that first night together, the jewelry we crafted under the light of the Purugir moon. All of them were buried beneath the statue erected in your name and visage. "Here lies Narset of the Ancient Way. May we remember her actions and live by them."
I lived by that edict for nearly eight years. While I detest the New Way's rejection of our past, I thought the times in which we previously lived were rigid and unmoving. One evening I entered the courtyard to steady my mind. Following your death, we had created a field of statues remembering those lost. Wandering between them, I saw one begin to stir. First, it seemed as though it was a simple trick of the moonlight. Yet when its jaw began to move and a creaking voice emerged from it, I knew this was not so. The statue spoke to me, its bronze throat seeming to ache with each word. The one who had possessed it called himself the Time Raveler. A man not just of another world, but another time. One in which the life paths we had walked were far different. A timeline in which, in his words, I had fallen to Kolaghan and you had lived on to become a godlike being. How amazing to imagine, I thought. My Narset, traveling the worlds Ojutai could only have dreamt of.
The Time Raveler claimed you had reached out to him to find this version of me. The one whose timeline was torn away from the great tree of the multiverse. As I am from this fallen branch, the Time Raveler cannot bring physical things from across the timelines to me. But he claims to be able to carry these letters I write to you through the unseeing nothingness. I do not trust this man. But my desire to speak to you once more outweighs these fears. I write this as an exploration of these two-pronged desires. Narset, if this version of you is alive, I wish for you to know me as I am now.
Creasing the letter's edges, Elsha placed the parchment in a scroll case embossed with the teachings of the New Way. She stood in front of the now-dormant statue, whose hand was outstretched in a beckoning manner. It had been a night since she had spoken to the Time Raveler. Placing the scroll case into the palm of the statue, she waited for a change. Silence. Then, a blinding light that engulfed the djinn's eyes. She stumbled back as the anima faded and left behind an empty-handed statue. She prayed her message to her lost love would find its mark.
There was a rustle of grass from outside of the field of statues. A visitor, this late at night? Elsha sprung into action and lept atop the heads of the display. Springing from point to point, she saw the High Judge of Guilt, Dar, surveying the area. Now, she understood that she would not be able to escape without Dar seeing her. But if she could come up with an excuse to be mourning her comrades this late, perhaps that would assuage his suspicions. Ducking behind the monument to Narset, she poked her head out. Dar was unaware. She stepped out from behind it and waved to the judge.
"Judge Dar! What brings you to the Fallen Ones this late in the night?"
Dar cocked an eyebrow at her. He'd grown grizzled in his demeanor ever since the Mardu-Jeskai war. The elderly man scanned her up and down, his suspicions clearly not satisfied. "There was an alarm, Abbot Elsha," he said. "Did you not hear? Some magic was performed here. I was simply trying to find the culprit."
Elsha drummed her fingers against the straps of her bookbag. If Dar were to dig any deeper, he'd find the tomes on chronomancy she'd nabbed from the archives. Best to fib a bit more and divert his path. "Sir, I apologize. That was me. I was just doing a memorial service for Narset." She gestured to the statue. "You know what she meant to me."
Dar shook his head. "We have spoken of this many times. The old khan clouds your judgment. When you pledged your loyalty to Khan San Yun, that was a pledge to him alone." Dar eyed Elsha's bag. "You have muddied your teachings with the weak Jeskai. Those who were built on platitudes of peace. We were forged in war. We must forget their words of weakness."
"But are we not to learn from the ways of the old ones?"
Dar placed a hand on the abbot's shoulder. For a moment, Elsha thought he would reach into her bag and find the proof of her subterfuge. "Consider this: You do not learn from your past if you simply commiserate on its memory. Do not let me catch you doing this again, unless you wish for the rest of the elders to place you under trial." His grip tightened around her. "Let go of her, Elsha. Or we will do it for you." He released and stepped back unblinking. Slinking into the shadows of Sage-Eye, Elsha breathed a sigh of relief. She had her memories of Narset, for now.
It's been a few months since I last wrote to you. Frankly, I didn't expect to do so again. The Time Raveler hasn't appeared at any of the monuments, despite my searches. Yet I couldn't erase that desire to hear from you again. Sometimes something would happen during the morning classes on the courtyard, or one of the young scholars would say something funny, and I would think of telling you. Narset, I am falling back into old habits of loving you.
We took one of the newest classes of fledgling monks to see the memorial statues. There was about a dozen of them, each no older than ten years old. They came with flowers and lapels decorated with the sigils of the New Way. Already we have begun to forget those who came before us, and I wished to teach them of your ways.
This was a mistake. I forget my temperament sometimes, love. One of the young ones claimed that he had heard your death signified the folly of your thinking. Apparently some of the elders have taken to aggrandizing your teachings. Now, I consider myself a calm mind most days. But I erupted at the student, claimed they were disrespecting the reason the Jeskai continue to survive and thrive. The boy rebuked me and a fight broke out between students. Spells and artifacts flew about the courtyard until the judges stopped them. They admonished me and have called me to trial. They call my passion rage, my love fury, and wish to tear your existence from me. I'm afraid. Your heart has bled across the timelines. Perhaps I had not forgotten you as much as I thought I had.
Fumbling with her bookbag, Elsha slipped the letter into it and felt its weight disappear into the aether. She'd learned that by simply keeping the statue's hand in her bag, she had a permanent way to slip these letters across timelines. At least, they disappeared when she did so. She had no way of knowing if they truly did go across timelines. But the desire for them to do so had rooted itself so deeply within her that she had been called before the council. Failing in her duties, late to teach classes, Elsha was falling into an obsession.
"Abbot?" A scribe said. "The council will see you now."
They sat in a group of seven, forming a semi-circle around the djinn. Elsha was at the center of this room and felt the monks scrutinize her every aspect. Many of them had spoken with her when testing her for her initiation to Head Abbot. Now they seemed to disagree with their past decision.
"Elsha. You have failed in your duties," spoke the Master of the Kiln "Your students and superiors alike have discredited your actions. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Elsha stood straight. "Master, I've continued my studies and teachings. While I may have stumbled, my actions are utterly unclouded."
"That is not the testimony of Judge Dar."
Ah. The snitch. He was the other option for Head Abbot. If she were to be implicated in his lies, Dar could easily take the position of Head Abbot in her place. They presented testimony of her lurking at Narset's statue and burying herself in artifacts. An obsessive mind, they called it. Warped by visions of a past long-gone.
"For this, we charge you with the crime of Disgracing the Jeskai. Your sentence is to have your memories of the Ancient Way's Narset extracted." spoke the monks in a single, unified tone. "The ceremony will take place at midnight tonight. Be present, lest you be exiled from our land for the rest of your life. If that happens, perhaps Dar's will won't be as merciful as ours."
Elsha's knees buckled. Dar was going to take Narset from her. She was going to lose her love for a second time.
Why do I write to you, even in these last precious few hours? Before the sun rises I will have either escaped the Jeskai or have you torn from me forever. May the former come to pass, and may everything go according to plan. I dream of you still. Let us make that dream a reality.
Dào, a scholar of the Ancient Ways, has agreed to assist me in my goals. They believe that the magic the Sarkhan Vol used all those years ago can send me to you. If the bond my mind has with yours is solid enough, that is. I must enter the Nexus and tempt destiny just as you have. If I do so and Dào's assumptions about the lingering magic are correct, I will see you again.
Narset, I am afraid. I am afraid not because I do not believe this will work. I am afraid because I love you this much. I would not have done something as daring as this before I know you. You tempt me to do great things in your image, you cloak me in your words and actions. If this fails and I do not see you again, please remember me as someone who died in pursuit of just one more taste of your love.
She tucked the letter into her bag and felt it vanish. One last love letter. In the Sage-Eye Stables she watched Dào ready a horse for her. Soon, the elders would come looking for her, and hopefully she would be halfway to the nexus. Dào was an absolute angel with the horses, able to calm them for even an event like this. They spoke in a sign language and Elsha translated the words, responding in kind.
"The Nexus is a few miles west of here, a five minute sprint from Sage-Eye. You just ride through there, picture her in your mind, and you should arrive there." signed Dào. "And arrive then I guess. Time travel is strange."
"Is it time travel, or timeline travel?" signed Elsha.
"This feels like a question for after your time-dependent escape." they signed. "Are you sure you want to do this? This is going to be a one-way trip."
"She and the Time Raveler sought me out. She was my world. Being able to speak with her again, I've felt more alive in the past few weeks than in nearly a decade." replied Elsha. "I love her, Dào. And I want to spend the rest of my life with her."
Dào nodded. "Go find her then."
She kissed Dào on the forehead and mounted her horse. With a kick of her boots she was off. She felt the Nexus's call from its cavern, beckoning her to run to Narset. The horse leapt over the gates of the stables in one swift motion, hooves crashing against the dirt and stones of Sage-Eye fields. Watchtowers shone lights down on her, forcing her to weave around the motes of light. Soon she was approaching the limits of Sage-Eye. 20 meters to the border, 15 meters, 10, then 5...
As she whipped past the demarcation, she felt the horse stir and grind to a halt. The saddle was burning hot, singing both herself and her mount. Some sort of tracking device. No doubt Dar was already on his way. She'd make the rest of the journey on foot. Tearing the saddle off her horse and sending it back to Dào, she ran towards the Nexus.
Elsha approached the cavern, already feeling the beckoning lights of the Nexus's arcane energy call out to her. Glimpses of her life with Narset mingled with visions of her fighting alongside new allies. Consorting with those of worlds beyond her own. A new, powerful Narset. Yet the same one she had loved.
"Elsha!" shouted a voice from behind her. Accompanying a cavalry of Jeskai soldiers, Dar pointed a spear at her. "You're under arrest for breaking the tenets of the Jeskai way. Turn back now and you will face trial. Deny this-" Dar signaled for his soldiers to ready themselves, "-and you will face judgment here and now."
Elsha stood rigid, just as she had before the council. There was 40 meters between her and the cavalry. More than enough space. She held out her hand, beckoning them to fire away. Dar complied.
Arrows, flames, a huge flurry of assaults hurtled towards Elsha. Golden strings of light attempted to bury themselves into her body. Elsha had studied how to combat this before. Channeling her energy into her palms, the djinn felt these projectiles' momentum. Just another aspect of the world, the leylines, that could be contorted. A brave woman had taught her that. The projectiles halted in midair, shaking in place, tethered to the will of Elsha, before being reflected. They reversed, returning to their senders and knocking them to the ground. In that swift motion, they were done away with.
Dar coughed blood, pinned to the ground with his own spear. "You're leaving your home, Elsha! Your only home."
Blinding lights filled her mind. Elsha tasted the sour vileness of the blind eternities as she was dragged across the wingspan of the universe. For a moment her psyche encompassed all of the multiverse, then none of it. She touched the gods of Theros and the mountains of Kaldheim. All of it was her, then in a flash, none of it was.
Elsha emerged from the Nexus. The light of this Tarkir was brighter somehow. Above her she heard the flapping of wings. Leathery flicks of the body. Dragons. This was certainly a different Tarkir. She stepped into the light, finding sand where she expected dirt. A group of monks with the symbol of an eye on their chests watched her, flocking to her side with water. Some pointed, called for someone. A name Elsha knew.
"Elsha." said Narset, emerging from the crowd. "You're alive."
Narset rushed to Elsha, her body not scarred from the fight with Zurgo but whole, truly whole. Elsha felt the familiar shape of Narset's hand in hers, the way it felt perfect, two pieces of a puzzle coming together. The voices of the old Tarkir calmed themselves around her.
"Did you get my letters?" asked Elsha.
"Kept every last one." Narset kissed her, and for that moment, Tarkir was whole again.