Welcome to Flavortown - Kaalia, Zenith Seeker
Kaalia, Zenith Seeker | Illustrated by Yongjae Choi, | Graphic Design by Luminarch
A World Beyond War
The old ways of Bant were dead, and Kaalia stood on its corpse. Bant's fields had gone rotten and had been trampled under the feet of mobilized soldiers. In the lands that she was taught to play childhood games in, the grass receded until sandy dunes and jagged rocks were all that was left. Around her, a church of Asha smoldered in the midday sun. A statue of the long-absent goddess stood half-complete in the courtyard of the monastery. Asha: a winged angel of a woman leveling a greatsword at a horde of unseen enemies. Around its feet were the corpses of Jundian infantry, Esperite assassins, and Grixan berserkers. The climax of Alara's great war dulled as Kaalia embraced the denouement.
Soldiers once spoke of the woman formerly known as Lia with words such as "scavenger," "vulture," or "reaper." While inaccurate, she did not deny these accusations. It was better to be perceived as an incomprehensible horror rather than as a target for the rallying of the masses. Instead, she allowed her silhouette to cast a shadow onto the Alaran battlefields. A demon, an angel. Nobody knew for sure what she was. All of those who knew her in her glory days were long dead, leaving only the husk she now was to maintain the legend.
Opening the door to the church, Kaalia saw the ravages of war had breached the holy place. Where once intricate tapestries of the angels of Bant adorned the walls, now they had all been harvested by Esper's mechanized warriors. No matter. Kaalia always thought they were gaudy anyways. In her youth her mother had forced her to attend the church every week. They'd watch the knights on the streets in their unblemished armor, recruiting the young athletes from the universities to their ranks. In the time before the Conflux, those knights had no real enemies to fight. She always wondered what they were recruiting for. More brawny men to stand in ceremonial armor while the royal families marched through the streets? Or perhaps they had some indication of what was to come?
Best to let those thoughts die with them, Kaalia thought. As she walked deeper into the dreary halls of the church, she pushed aside the ruined bodies of these very knights who'd spent so much time in armor, yet so little in war. Littering the floor were their now-rusted blades, no doubt the product of the industrial soldiers. As Kaalia looked at them, she felt an odd pit in her stomach. Something worming away at her. She'd come here for a purpose, she wouldn't be distracted from it. As she collected the item she came for, Kaalia ascended into the skies through a hole in the ceiling. Her demonic wings flapping away in the ash-stained skies, she realized what the feeling was. Kaalia felt pity for the dead.
There was a time where Kaalia was not simply a seeker of the trinkets of the dead. Instead, she was Kaalia of the Vast. Following her mutation by the various infernal and holy forces of the plane, she was known for cleaving through armies and conjuring great avatars of her power. Under the servitude of the Lords of Jund, Kaalia created a name for herself. The Conflux brought war to the plane, a field in which she was quite skilled. The market of warfare had quite the demand for a woman capable of conjuring a massive dracolord onto a battlefield. In her finest hour, she'd led a charge against a massive stronghold of Nefarox. The sweat on her brow, the blood beating in her veins, the taste of battle rose filled her mouth as her magic felled mortal and immortal alike. That day, centuries ago now, was the last time she could remember that true glory of battle.
All good things came to an end, and the age of flesh was one of them. A body made of delicate muscle and veins like Kaalia's became more and more unpredictable, more unreliable, as time went on. Even the bloody tyrants of Grixis couldn't resist the etherium blades and ballistics that the technopriests of Esper could offer. Thus, sapience began to be ushered out of warfare. Living minds could be distorted by magic, hesitating due to the folly of their emotions. The generals realized that by simply paying some ethersworn arms dealer, they could furnish an army that would accept any command. Years passed, and the legend of Kaalia of the Vast began to die out. Soon she'd became relegated to what she was now: someone to fly above a battlefield to strike fear into the dwindling fleshling operators of the mechanized warmachines.
There were benefits to this, of course. The fact that fewer living soldiers were being thrown onto battlefields to die in a dragon's fire was, in Kaalia's opinion, a benefit to the system. No longer were the strongest of a village led to believe they would give their lives as a soldier in the Conflux War. Instead, they could grow up with some hope of living a prosperous life. But that was assuming these mechanized warmongers did not quash these same villages first. When the soldiers in your war had no mind of their own, that was when things like the destroyed church of Asha came to be. Kaalia was placed in a painful situation, forced to watch the horrors of battle, yet too weak to do anything about it. Her immortality kept her looking young, but her powers had dwindled as the people's tactics grew stronger.
Kaalia was a weapon in the eyes of these nations, but what purpose does a weapon serve in a post-war society? As the sands of time that coursed through Alara sped by her, the dull blade that was Kaalia began to ponder what she was to this world. When she had been blessed by the powers that she once wielded with such great ferocity, she used them to change the very landscape of Alara, to forge it into something that was befitting of her needs as a warrior. Now, she questioned who was doing the shaping in this war. While the simulacra of angels she conjured had morphed the world to better serve her, she felt the order of each general she served under morph her to be a machine solely for devastation. The creases of her mind shaped themselves around a desire for battle, and in the absence of such conflict there was a void in her heart. Without the one source of pleasure she had come to know, Kaalia began to feel aimless. Drifting above the skies of battle, casting her dark shadows on mindless constructs.
In a moment of weakness during a battle above the fields of Esper, Kaalia descended from her position of fear-mongering. Weaving throughout the blasts of Telemin constructs, Kaalia sought out her target. Something to help her reclaim that same glory of vicious, bloodthirsty battle that had come so naturally to her those centuries ago. In between an impaled soldier of Grixis and cleric of Bant, she saw it. A hulking demon, much like the one who had claimed her family those many years ago. Its sinuous body had been modified and hacked away at, likely by some Vedalken artificer who believed they could supplant the chaotic masterworks of the Grixis fiends. The demon's eyes seemed to track its targets, locating the process points in their armor and magic that held weakness, and at those points, a flaming mace would crash through, tearing apart metal and flesh alike. Whatever this thing was now, it was singularly driven to kill anything that did not share its allegiances. The perfect target for Kaalia's newly resurrected vitriol.
From across the battlefield, Kaalia leveled her weapon at the beast. She'd killed foul things like this demon before. To rid Alara of one of these foul contortions of Asha's will was the closest she could get to a strictly moral act. Slowly, she closed her eyes and felt the world around her. The whirring hums and rotary blades echoed off of blood-slick canyon walls. Screams of ethermech pilots as their vessels were crushed between the jaws of dragons. The familiar crackle of a lightning spell burgeoning in a young mage's hand. Here was no place for a righteous soul. This was war, the truest manifestation of war. The one place a soldier like Kaalia felt at home.
She set her sights on a space between the metal stitching in its arms, where she felt that if she jammed her blade into that point, she could rip it asunder, leaving the perfect space for a follow-up.
A searing blaze nearly burnt off one of her wings as she dived under an envoy of mechanauts. The enhanced demon had its back to her, seeming to be preoccupied with turning a group of soldiers to a grisly pulp. Now she could strike, bring this thing to its knees and reclaim the title of Kaalia of the Vast once more. Kaalia raised her sword and prepared to jab it into the fell one's hide.
The demon turned to face her, impaled her through the gut, and threw her to the ground. Not even bothering to confirm the kill, it marched away, leaving Kaalia to die on the fields of etherium.
Fate was an odd goddess, however, and Kaalia came to consciousness in the grim underbelly of a cosmopolitan city. A nacatl woman and vedalken person stood above her, poking at her wings with some curiosity. As the vague fogginess of near-death began to fade from her mind, she listened as the two explained that they were scavengers, some impoverished Esperites displaced by the war. A commonplace sight following a large battle such as this. The two had dragged her body across hordes of fallen soldiers and stitched her up with some flimsy surgical thread. As Kaalia felt the creases of her newfound patchwork stitches, she began performing the mental arithmetic of what this would cost her. She could pay back these kind people with some gold, or perhaps do a tit-for-tat by killing someone they wanted dead.
Before she could find some way to repay them, though, the two fervently explained they needed no payment. They'd picked her up as an act of moral necessity, that she didn't need to do anything (though they were grateful) and that once she was ready, they would send her on her way. Kaalia had spent so much time in the grave trenches of warfare that such a sentiment seemed unheard of. She was Kaalia, Zenith Seeker, the person you hired when you desired to see something bisected. Yet here were these people who desired only to see her survive to the next day. As she looked at their starving bodies, they were clearly deprived of some form of sustenance. And even still they had sheltered her for Asha knows how long. A world outside war, outside of gnashing teeth and geysers of blood. It was simple and manifold all at the same time. It was Alara as it should be.
Having spent the last few years in that same underbelly, Kaalia returned from the ruined temple with her collection. The children of the underbelly scurried to her as she descended. The children tugging at her robes, she jostled their hair as she slinked through the crowd of younglings. In her bag she held the item she'd recovered from the church. A young elvish girl ran up to her, shouting for "Ms. Kaalia, Ms. Kaalia." Her eyes were red and she sniffled as she approached. Crouching down, Kaalia brushed the girl's hair out of her eyes. The elf didn't speak. Perhaps she was so young she had not learned, or perhaps the travesties of this plane had worn that heavily on her mind. Kaalia reached into her bag and produced the stuffed animal the girl had lost when she evacuated from the church. Its ears were slightly burnt, soot covering its button eyes, yet when she held it tight to her, the girl burst into tears of joy as one last reminder of home returned to her.
Kaalia knew there was no place for soldiers outside of war. But there was one for heroes.