Welcome to Flavortown - Estrid, the Masked
Estrid, the Masked and Estrid's Invocation | Illustrated by Johannes Voss
"My dearest Estrid, when will I see you again?" The aven man kissed her hand, the hot suns of Amonkhet beating down on the two. "Every day apart from you is torturous."
"Oh, ah. You see... you know how it is for planeswalkers." Estrid cleared her throat. "'Call of the Multiverse and all that." Her form began to flicker in and out of being as her mind searched for a plane to escape to.
"I will wait eagerly for your return, my beloved."
Estrid panicked as her voice flickered between the planes. "Oh. You really shouldn't. I'll probably never come back. Sorry, guess it's not in the cards for us."
And she was gone. Drifting through the glistening aether between worlds. She'd likely never encounter that man again. Thank the gods.
She needed to get better at breakups.
Estrid always found herself drifting between lives. Staying in one place, let alone one plane, was a horrid thing. She'd found herself in a routine, one that necessitated a certain degree of danger. Travel the multiverse, find some random plane, and have a whirlwind romance. Often she would find herself embracing death-defying adventurers, a constant adrenaline rush. Then, she'd leave when she could see the pieces of their relationship crumble. This was, obviously, a difficult thing for either party.
She found herself burning bridges when the honeymoon stage had peaked for the other. About two weeks in. Planeswalkers: the ever-moving, ever-destroying scourge of the multiverse. She would always realize the death of her love and a ticking time bomb would begin to take shape in her mind.
As her body whipped past the planes, she held the mask she had made of the aven man. Flashes of his mind began to flood through her fingertips and into her consciousness. She hadn't simply sculpted the curvature of his face, or the knotted feathers on his head. She had constructed a small piece of him. One which she could not seem to rid herself of. Not a true version of him, but what she saw him as, transformed into its own being.
The masks seemed to manifest of their own volition. She'd wake up in the middle of the night to find her fingers clutching one, formed out of her own magic. Wearing them was a kind of transformation. She did not become her lovers, nor did she remain herself. Rather, she became a unification of the two. Estrid still understood herself as a woman, yet wearing the aven's mask meant wrapping herself in his masculinity, his memory, and the very essence of his being
The unison of self and other was often a taxing process. She considered it a kind of relationship test-run. Within her mind, she and her lovers' personalities would clash against one another. The unified self within the mask would tear itself apart. Her mind pushed against the presence of another. On some deep, dark level, Estrid knew it was her fault. Something about her seemed to repel the minds of others. She'd find herself clawing at the edges of her masks, hoping she could release the lover's mind from the torment of closeness to her. Last night she'd thrown the aven's mask across the room, crouching in the corner.
The things she heard him say-- it say. The way that Estrid's mind was made, either by flaw or folly, seemed to deny closeness. The lovers would say she was alien, that her mind was an aberration. That was true to a degree. She was incapable of being "from around here." Home was a plane torn to tatters by a Dragon-God. Home was a place one couldn't return to.
So it goes. Estrid granted herself a brief respite before returning to her fruitless search for love.
She emerged into the embrace of cool air and a mist of salt water. On Kamigawa, children played beneath the branches of Boseiju. There was good Estrid could still do. From her bag she produces small hand-carved toys she procured from Eldraine. The children flocked around her, each one jumping to get a chance with the new toys.
"Don't you all have technology? I'm shocked that this still interests you." Estrid couldn't help but laugh. She enjoyed these short visits to the children. Within a week she'd be staring down death once again. Why not spend some time with the youth?
"What toys did you play with, Aunt Estrid?" Some of the children had taken to calling her that. She couldn't help but laugh, wondering if this collection of nezumi, moonfolk, and orochi actually thought she was related to them.
"Oh, I just had my scrolls growing up. Plenty of studying to be done." She ran her fingers over one of the dolls. "But don't you want something new? There's only so much fun you can have with an oak action figure."
"But the old stuff is nice." A nezumi girl said. "Reminds me of home."
These poor kids, having their homes torn away from them by power-hungry planeswalkers. She figured the least she could do was provide some minor joys for them. Estrid took the young nezumi by the hand, offering to take her to a local shelter run by a friend. A penance, perhaps.
They walked through the market streets of Towashi, the neon lights hot on their faces. The girl rattled on about every minor thing that had happened in her life. Her friends, hobbies, anything that had a proper noun tied to it. Estrid simply nodded along, happy to be a firm hand to hold. Towashi seemed to shine just a bit brighter for the girl.
"How do you still find joy in it?" asked Estrid. "After everything this city has done?
"Dunno. I just do." She smiled. "It's nice. And it's nice being around nice things."
As they approached the doors of the shelter, Estrid mouthed the word "nice" over and over. She knew something nice. Someone. But being around her wasn't nice. That woman from Theros who her mind kept coming back to. She'd run away from that. She wasn't someone you could just return to.
Estrid knocked on the front door. Rather than open, the shelter's caretaker descended from the sky, blanket in hand for the young nezumi.
"It's been a while, Estrid," said Tamiyo. "I'd love to catch up if you don't mind."
The plane of Kodisha housed the Endless Bazaar, a bustling merchants where planeswalkers came to buy and sell goods from across the multiverse. Outside a store which sold incense blessed by an Innistradi priest, Tamiyo and Estrid sat across from each other, the latter shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
She scanned Tamiyo's face for any sign of intent. The moonfolk produced a teapot from her bag along with glassware. An automatic kettle gifted by a friend, the pot began to brew a particularly pungent green tea. All throughout it she remained unassuming, nothing but a slight smile on her lips. Estrid wondered if she should break the silence with a joke, but no punchline came.
They'd last met each other on Ravnica during the War of the Spark. The two conjured living stories wrapped in protective sigils to defend against the encroaching Eternals. Entertained by Estrid's compulsion towards danger, Tamiyo picked her brain on her history, asking all sorts of questions. Between waves of enemies, Tamiyo listened to Estrid tell stories of her life. Estrid was careful not to mention anyone specific. She trusted Tamiyo, but knew she should be careful to protect the privacy of her past lovers. If she could keep her lovers from being involved with planeswalkers, she'd do it. Nobody wants their summer fling to cause their downfall.
"So, Mrs. Tamiyo, how are the kids?" Estrid swished her tea in tiny whirlpools.
"Quite well. Nashi has taken a liking to tinkering. He'll be an artificer like his father one day." Tamiyo smiled. She spoke highly of her children. It was nice to know they had someone like her.
"Anything new? Sorry, I always miss the Story Circle meetings. You know me: always zipping around the planes." Estrid started to ramble, telling stories of the wild excursions she'd had in various realms. She couldn't help but notice that when she mentioned all of these death-defying moments in succession, she sounded like a bit of a masochist. Best not to think about that.
Tamiyo quickly downed her cup, steam still rising from the rim of her glass. "You mentioned a woman on Theros. You spoke highly of her, did you not?"
Ah, there it is, thought Estrid. She cleared her throat and began to stumble over her words. "I mean, I mentioned many people. I'm sure I spoke of someone from Theros, maybe a woman. Who's to say? I've met so many people. That's not me bragging. It's just that I talk to a lot of folks. Like you! And--"
"Estrid. Stop." Tamiyo up her hand. "You know who I speak of. And she sounds kind. Tell me about her."
The moonfolk produced a silver scroll from her bag. Its edges were adorned with Therosian script, words of valor and heroism. A story scroll, yet when she unrolled it, the paper was blank. Ready to be written. Estrid was no author, though. She couldn't write like Tamiyo could.
"Place your hands upon it, and your mind will tell the tale," Tamiyo said. "Sometimes, going into the past can offer some insight into the future."
What did she have to lose? Silently, Estrid placed her palms onto the script, and fell headfirst into her own story.
Estrid emerged from the Blind Eternities for the first time, her pale, thin body rolling against the grassy fields of the Amatrophon of Theros. Her robes were scorched from the dragon's fire, the smell of burning timber and bodies still lingering near her.
Her mind reeled from the experience. Though she did not know it, her spark had ignited and sent her far, far from the forces that tore her home to shreds. Kneeling on the grassy knoll, Estrid clawed at the space between the planes. She desperately hoped to return home, remembering the faces of her friends as the very fabric of her plane began to be undone.
After a moment, she found the space where her home was. But it was empty. As if it was a square in a quilt, removed by the shears of a god. Now she was stranded in a strange land. Even the air tasted different.
"Excuse me, miss." A voice from behind her spoke. "I don't mean to intrude, but you're looking quite shaken, and I couldn't help but notice your robes look a bit... well, a bit ruined."
Estrid looked up to see a young nymph, the leaves of an olive tree adorning her hair. Her skin seemed to glow with tiny, twinkling lights that reminded her of the stars of her home plane. She mustered up the courage to speak. "I'm sorry, I don't want to bother you. I'll find something."
"I can see you're in plenty of trouble, and I'm not one to let new friends run off when they're in trouble." She extended a hand to help Estrid up. "The name's Sythis. Happy to meet you."
The scroll continued to propel her through the past as she appeared in a marble room, vines dappling the walls. Sythis's temple, a shrine to bounty and beauty on Theros. Estrid spent many weeks here, the priests of Karametra being kind enough to offer her lodgings.
She'd sit on her balcony, watching the caretakers of the land spread out and sprinkle bits of stardust onto the crops. It was a calm endeavor for them. There was no fear in their actions. They did not revere their god out of a desire not to be slain. Instead, they would whisper kind words into the plants and watch them blossom.
After their day of farming and caretaking, the priests would invite Estrid to dine with them in their halls. She'd sit there, simply listening to the clamor of conversation, daring not to interrupt their discussions. But Sythis, intent to break through the young woman's shell, would always attempt to wrestle a few words from her. Whether it was asking what books Estrid had been reading or her thoughts on the meal, she poked at Estrid as much as possible.
After dinner, Estrid climbed the spiraling staircase of the church towards her room. It was a humble space, decorated with only a few watercolor paintings of oracles, some books, and a humble cot. She'd wait until the steps of the priests quieted as the priests went to sleep, then exit onto the balcony to stargaze.
"Enjoying the view?" From behind her, Sythis stepped out onto the balcony. "I couldn't sleep either. Not on a night like this."
"I'm just watching the stars. It's fine." Estrid sat cross-legged, her body tightened together.
"Did you stargaze a lot in the place you're from?" she asked.
The stars on Theros were unlike anything on her home plane. She remembered what they had looked like, dying out in the sky as the plane itself fell to ruins. But here, the sky shone brighter than ever. Each star pulsed so beautiful she thought nothing could ever quell them.
"Nothing like this," said Estrid. "If I can't see home again, why not watch here?"
Sythis cocked her head to the side, then took a seat next to Estrid. Her green skin had an almost divine glow to it. "Tell me about it. Your home plane."
"It's nothing special."
"Humor me." Sythis smiled. Their conversation didn't stop until the sun rose the next morning.
The two became increasingly inseparable. Estrid finally left the confines of her room and joined the Karametren priests for their daily prayers. She wasn't a worshipper herself, but Sythis had shown her that there was some hope to be found in faith. Sitting on the fence of the farmlands, the two would weave fabrics together, each thread neat and orderly in accordance with the planning.
Estrid ventured away from the church some days, exploring the nearby cities she'd read stories about. Soldiers in gold armor, bards with horns growing from their heads, and other fantastical characters roamed the cities of Theros. All sorts of strange artifacts, trinkets of beauty and renown, filled the pockets and shelves of those on the plane. It was strange, seeing a place where the inhabitants knew peace as the norm, not something to be pursued.
On one of these journeys she bought a small locket from a priest. A thin gold hoop held within it a floating piece of clay, shifting in the space like liquid. Estrid spun the substance between her fingers. It was beautiful, and would do nicely.
Sythis was honored to receive it, and the two continued to fall for each other. Although relationships were uncommon for Karametran priests, the edicts of the God of Harvest encouraged her followers to pursue love wherever they could find it. While some in the church frowned upon a non-believer courting a high priest, Estrid and Sythis didn't care for others. They'd found home.
Watching her memories, Estrid felt her mind shunt forward to the future. No, not here. Not here, she thought. She and Sythis were standing in the fields late at night, throwing breadcrumbs to the animals that roamed the fields.
"Can I ask you a question, dear?" asked the nymph. "The priests in Meletis, they want us to join them for a missionary trip. We'd be venturing far east."
"Oh." Estrid frowned. "When would you be back? This might be selfish, but I don't look forward to being apart from you for so long."
"That's the thing. I wanted to ask you if you'd come with me."
Estrid laughed. "I couldn't! A missionary trip like that, you'd only be able to take other clergy members and family."
Estrid turned to face her, only to notice that Sythis was on the ground. No. She was on one knee. In her hands she held a small stone, one who's glow was only matched by Sythis's own eyes.
And Estrid made her first mask.
It conjured itself, threads of her mind whipping in the wind, forming itself into a reflection of her lover. A mask made of Estrid's psyche, a corrosive substance, forced to meld with the Sythis she saw before her. The space between them was filled with light, then there was the mask. Sleek, opaque, an exact replica of the nymph's face. It flew to its unwitting creator and clung to Estrid's face.
As their minds merged, Estrid realized the devastation she would bring. Planeswalkers attracted tragedy, and each moment she spent with Sythis doomed her further. It was against the nature of things for them to insert themselves into other planes. Estrid, a woman from another world, no longer had a home. Asserting herself as belonging to Theros, belonging with Sythis, was against the fate her spark ascribed.
The mask poured memories into her mind. She saw the devastation that took her home from her coming to Theros. She saw herself being excommunicated from the church of Karametra. She saw every beautiful thing Sythis had come to love burning. All because she believed she had a right to make a home here.
Estrid would not allow this to pass. Without a word, she planeswalked away and never returned to Theros.
Tamiyo is across from her when she returns to the real world. Shaking off the cold nausea of the dreamspace, the enchantress stared off into the middle distance. How long had she been out? It felt like weeks, but Tamiyo's cup was still warm.
"How are you feeling?" she asked Estrid. Placing the story scroll back into her bag, Tamiyo examined her for any signs of post-magic sickness. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cause you harm."
"Well, you did. So there's that." Estrid coughed into a napkin, her throat hoarse. "I ran from those memories for a reason. Didn't need to relive them," she said, shaking her head. "You should go."
"I can't let you go blindly planeswalking after that. You could get hurt, landing in some far-flung place on the edge of the multiverse."
Estrid slammed her fist against the table. "Maybe I'm fine with that. Maybe I just want to get away. Ever think of that?"
"Nobody deserves to be alone."
"That's easy for someone with a family to say. But I hurt people. I've tried to find people like you have, but I'm not made for that." Estrid stared into the clamoring crowds of the bazaar. "I've seen all the multiverse and nowhere where I feel at home."
A stillness hung over the table, the two suspended on a taut rope of anxiety.
Tamiyo finished her tea and stared at her, eyes unblinking. "I've read many tales. I know when they end. The one you just wrote lacks an ending." She began to dissolve into a flutter of scrolls, planeswalking back home. "Give it one."
Fields of wheat danced against Estrid as she walked once more through the fields. Time moved differently from one plane to the next, so she couldn't say for certain how long it had been. All she knew for certain was that the skies above had shifted. Where once there were large patches of the glittering bodies of gods there was only a deep blue void.
Against her predictions, some stars did go out.
The temple she had lived in for so long had aged considerably. The pillars outside were cracked, marble falling into decay. Estrid could hear the clamor of dishware and stoves from inside. They'd all be there. Nymphs of Karametra were sustained by the land; none of them would have passed. All of them, especially Sythis, would be as beautiful as the day she left.
With each step she fought the urge to vanish into the Blind Eternities. Leaving came easy to planeswalkers. Staying was the tricky part. Her boots clicked against the stone pavement, a winding path towards her former home.
And she saw them all. They were gathered around the dining table. A light fire crackled and the smell of spices wafted through the room. And of course, Sythis. But she was holding a small child in her arms, carefully feeding it. Another woman, a satyr, stood next to her. Parents.
I see, Estrid thought. She banished malice from her mind. As she stood in the doorway, she locked eyes with Sythis. The nymph looked to her satyr wife and whispered something to her. The satyr nodded and walked off, leaving Sythis alone. Holding the child, Estrid's former lover walked outside and the two spoke for the first time in years.
Sythis sat for a long while, listening intently as Estrid filled her in on the events of her life. Finally, she spoke. "So why come here now?"
Estrid bit her lip. "I want to make amends. I left you. You showed me kindness, a gentle embrace that saved me."
"Then I have given you all I have!" For the first time, Sythis shouted. The baby began to cry and her mother bounced them on her knee. Finally, the child's sobs silenced. "I wanted to help you, so I did. And I fell in love with you. And I offered you marriage. Then you left. I was alone for years until I found..." She stopped.
"I'm sorry, you don't have-"
"No. I do. Until I found someone who could love me." Sythis stared into her child's eyes. "She became something I could live for. We healed each other. Now we have someone we both care for. You hurt me, Estrid. I can't be the one to bring you healing."
That urge to leave festered in her chest once again. The act of being near Sythis was burning, an overwhelming glow that threatened to scorch her soul. "All I wanted was not to hurt you."
"The only time you hurt me was when you left me."
Estrid thought about her years of travel. All of the masks she'd forged, all of the possible doomsdays they foretold. She had carried the weight of them. But they did not make her do anything. She chose to listen to them, chose to tear herself away from the world leaving tatters behind. No more. No more.
"I don't want your love." Estrid said. "I want to love you. Not as a lover, but as another person." Estrid placed a hand on her shoulder. "I thought searching for love across the world would dissuade my fear of loss. But that wasn't the case. Having someone to love is what kept me from fearing loss."
Sythis thought for a moment. Estrid imagined that she was praying. "Would you like to hold them?"
Estrid held the child in her arms. Their skin was bright blue, glittering horns made of the light of Nyx emerging from the infant's head. This was what Estrid feared losing. Closeness. She wasn't going to discard it anymore, but hold would hold it tight. To be loved by Sythis wasn't her fate, but that didn't mean she was unlovable.
"They have their mother's eyes." Estrid said. And no mask was made.