Welcome to Flavortown - Venser, Corpse Puppet

Jubilee Finnegan • February 15, 2023

Venser, Corpse Puppet| Illustrated by Igor Kieryluk

One Day, One Day

I am pinned to the sinuous walls with blades made of claw and bone. It is quiet in this sphere. Birds carry cables of flesh in their beaks, bonding them to the pulsing hearts that make up this place. On occasion, the birds play sound. Metal plates grind against each other, a confluence of noise with no meaning. I record this in case it is ever needed. Every sound, sight, scent, taste of ichor in my mouth, all of it is sent to Her Highness. It is an honor to serve in the great work. My role is observer. Passive. Placated. I forget nothing that occurs within my body. Her Highness calls it the Panopticon. I understand it as incorporeal thoughts made into corporeal steel. With moderate frequency, I allow my body to sink into its recesses, allowing myself to become enveloped in the memory. The birds continue their cacophony.

It is night on Urborg. My father beckons me away from the banks. I go about my daily chores. Changing out the lantern candles. Checking the clocks. All of it is routine. My father sits on the porch and sips a drink. His hands are slick with oily swamp water. It reminds me of my future. Father calls me to his side. We sit for a while. He is sick, but neither of us know it. He will die next year.

Father tells me a story. Supposedly there is a protective spirit over Urborg. I wonder aloud why this spirit allows bad things to happen. A year ago we lost the Griyari family to zombies. Father does not know. He claims that the act of not knowing is natural. We reminisce about Mother. I only saw her face twice. It is a cold night on Urborg.

Thirty years later, I am on Otawara, Soaring City. I meet Vraska. She is unkempt in abilities as a planeswalker. One day she will meet perfection at the hands of Phyrexia. She warns me of a plane she once visited. It was covered in metal, a stitching of steel plates across thousands of untamed acres. Whatever I am to do, I must not visit this place. She tells me of the foul stench of oil that reeks from beneath its synthetic surface. In twenty years I will be a part of that oil, yet it will not feel sickening. It will feel like home. It will be home. She will understand this too. One day.

One day.

I disregard her wishes. Karn and I are on Mirrodin, which will one day be New Phyrexia, which is now home. He speaks of an organism. Karn fascinates me when he speaks of Phyrexia. To him, it is not a collection of beings, unified under the idea of compleation. He also does not see them as a hive mind, a description that may be more apt. Phyrexia, to the golem, is an event. Phyrexia does not appear, it occurs. When I sculpt the spheres of the plane, I think of this. When he fought the Phyrexians all those years ago, perhaps Karn knew they would return. I think of using my magic to peer into his mind, but I do not. Perhaps I think of it as unkindness. Or I do not see him as having a soul. I do not know which of these is worse.

Three years ago I am back with Vraska. We meet in the pits of Ravnica, the rumbling of sewer water flooding our ears. She is plotting an insurrection, slowly mounting forces from the deepest recesses of the plane. The moss-slick floors have become her battlegrounds. Vraska believes she can usurp the oppressors of Ravnica in one final charge. All she requires is my abilities. Just open a portal below Isperia's home. Drop the entire Azorius Senate deep into the plane. She uses words like "simple" and "poetic" to describe the tactic. This is partially accurate. I know exactly the type of spell that would be required to enact this. But being involved in this crusade of liberation is unlike me. I do not believe I am suited for such a matter. She calls me vile things. I think for a moment she will turn me to stone. But I trust her for reasons I do not understand. One day, we will both be united beneath Phyrexia.

I am young. Older than when I knew my father, younger than when I knew the taste of Ravnican air. The halls of Tolaria West echo with each footstep. Teferi watches from afar. I see past his eyes, deep into his mind and into the trenches of his memory. The man has seen so much. He wonders if there is an end to all of this. He thinks of fighting Phyrexia and of his lost home on Zhalfir. On one morning, Teferi speaks of times of peace. He believes that we are beyond the grasp of Phyrexia.

It is human for him to believe this. There is an assumption that if someone has endured so much trauma, seen so much grief, that they will eventually emerge from it having escaped this world. Perhaps Teferi is unable to understand full truths. His mind has been stretched across time. The idea of a life is abstract to him now. Planeswalkers often fall victim to this. When he becomes mortal, I will take his place in this godlike state. We both wonder if this ascendancy renders our humanity moot. 

But he is not cruel. He is a protector, consigned to a passive role. Teferi's skin does not age. Even as loved ones grow old, grow sick, grow content, he does not. A planeswalker understands their role in the world is isolated from the world. A planeswalker exists in a manner unbefitting of human existence. So we have both, we will both accept the role of observer in the world. We protect where we can, but simply watch as time stretches on.

I am older. Much older. Vraska and I lock blades over the sands of Amonkhet. She calls me a coward, one who doesn't deserve the honor of a spark. My body phases through stabs and stone, an incorporeal manifestation. I land behind her and tackle the gorgon to the ground. The tendrils on her head turn to face me. Time seems to slow to a crawl as she attempts to turn me into stone. Perhaps she sees this as poetic. To transform me into a passive observer of tragedy. Venser the Statue. Cursed to stare at the shifting plane of Amonkhet. I have lost so many already. Her stony gaze could grant me the gift of indifference. 

The thought escapes me and I teleport away. Vraska snarls, the sands drawing a curtain between us. I wonder, if only for a moment, if she truly desired to kill me. This is the last time I see Vraska while I am human. She vanishes into the Blind Eternities. There are two bootprints that remain where she stood. They linger, then are slowly covered by the sands. This was an inevitable ending.

Years in the future, I have breached the defenses of New Phyrexia. Mirrodin, as I once knew it, has crumbled beneath the fist of ichor. Elspeth cleaves a fleshy construct in two. We approach the doors that contain the Silver Golem. One of the Phyrexians, a dying, pitiful myr, reaches out towards my leg. Its voice is shrill, like the sound of a glass bottle being dropped. It is a cry for us to stop. This being, this imitation of creation, does not want us to destroy its home and birthplace.

Why do I intercede? To intercede is antithetical to the nature of planeswalkers. Is Phyrexia not the dull crawl of progress? A mass, an idea, that perfects all philosophy into a single, unified vision. I turn to Elspeth, questioning the very motivations of our actions. She nearly brings her blade down on me. For a moment, she sees me as the Phyrexian I will become. In the reflection of her armor, I see it, too. For the rest of my time as a living human, it is not a burgeoning mindset, it is the end of thought.

The Mother of Machines changes this. My body is lifted from the floors of the Mycosynth. The sockets my eyes once rested in are hollow, sinking pits. Several of my organs are rotted or missing. It is a body recognized as Venser, but it is not Venser of Urborg. Phyrexia accentuates this harsh truth. My surgeon is precise with each incision. My body is made into a vessel for Phyrexian scripture. My skin, adorned with the teachings of praetor and founder alike. 

When humans imagine compleation, it is a violent act. For some, perhaps it is. But I know compleation as a kindness. Tekuthal sees each memory of mine laid out before them, and he grants me clarity. To be human would be to fester on the pains of my life, to be a planeswalker is the curse of knowledge. We see every plane overlaid atop each other, unable to save them. Some may unite to protect, but in the end, Phyrexia or war or famine or time will claim them all.

Inside the Panopticon, I rest for the first time in years. The walls pulse with a life all their own, filling my veins with ichor. Something long dormant awakens as I am shunted into consciousness. All of Phyrexia is made visible to me. The trees of Vorinclex, the pits of Sheoldred. All of them fall under my gaze in a single moment. The agony of Mirrans, each life lost to Phyrexia, I bear witness to. But I do not feel. My role now is observer, divorced from the empathy that failed me. Free, truly free.

I am a child with my father. We sit and watch the swamp one night, wondering what the future holds for us. In the distance, a crocodile eats a turtle, and I cry. I cry to my father and ask him why nature chooses to claim so much. Why did the spirit of Urborg not protect the turtle? He has no answer. We sit and mourn the animal. Father says that mourning is natural. We bury our dead and keep them in our memories.

"But you must never forget your emotions, Venser. For that is what keeps them alive."

Venser, Corpse Puppet

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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.