“Since our worst thoughts proved true, and Phyrexia has reached this metallic shore, then our only hope is to find Karn.”

“Karn?” Elspeth said. She’d moved into the doorway so soundlessly that Venser had not detected her. Very nice.

“His friend,” Koth said. “Who brought him to Mirrodin. Some unknown Mirran.”

“He created Mirrodin,” Venser said. “He is the artisan who made this plane. The Silver Golem himself.”

They said nothing for a time. “That is not true,” Koth said. “We vulshok have our own stories.”

“It is true, I assure you.”

“Venser,” Elspeth said. “Why would he be here? And if he is, then he has surely been consumed. And in that case, we do not want to find him.”

“Last I heard he was traveling here. He sent a message that none should follow him. He is my friend and I would have followed him.”

“Eventually?” Koth said.

“Yes,” Venser said, staring darkly at Koth.

“What is our next course of action?” Elspeth said.

Venser turned to her. “We don’t know just how badly this place is infected yet. I have not seen many of the telltale signs of septic infiltration. He could be somewhere fighting the Phyrexians even as we speak.”

Elspeth nodded once to acknowledge that that was indeed a possibility. Koth, on the other hand, frowned.

“Silver golems and Phyrexians are both foreigners and will be expelled as soon as possible,” Koth said. “You will see that Mirrodin does not stand alone. Her children will fight for her. People like my comrade Malach. We will find him. He can tell us how bad the infection has become.” Koth walked out the door.

Chapter 2

They moved though the darkness on Koth’s iron slabs. Koth stopped to whisper words of power and wisps of light danced in the air, lighting the surrounding walls as they made their way deeper into the canyon.

Without warning, it started to rain so hard that Koth could not see the outline of the mountains silhouetted against the sky, and the group had to stop. They laid up in a small draw under a slag overhang as the rain fell hard, spattering the rust mud over their boots.

When the rain stopped, they rode the iron boulders again.

“Where does the water go?” Venser said. “It is gone, all that fell. There are no pools.”

Koth cocked his head to the side and spat.

“What do I know of water?” he said.

“I heard gurgles.”

It was Elspeth who had spoken. Venser turned to her in the darkness. Only a white form gliding behind.

“Yes, it must drain,” he said.

“Hush your nattering,” Koth said. “We are here.”

The sky had a slight greenish tint, Venser thought, as the boulders came to a stop. For some reason it was brighter there, as if the suns were about to rise. It was bright enough, for instance, to see a small hut soldered to the side of a peak that shot straight up and high into the air. A light burned in the hut and Koth stepped off his boulder and made for it.

“Why is the air green?” Elspeth said.

Koth stopped and looked up. Then he looked down at the metal ground. Long blotches of darkness were clearly visible on the metal, even in the low light. “It can’t be,” Koth said.

He ran the rest of the distance to the hut, and into the doorway. A moment later he was back out again.

“Malach!” Koth yelled with his hands cupped around his mouth. The noise echoed off the cliffs and boomed back at them.

“Koth,” Venser said. He was standing away from the hut, behind a small heap of iron rubble, his eyes looking at something on the ground. He bent. “I’m sorry, but I think I found your-” Venser was turning a corpse over by the shoulder, when the limp form gave a violent shudder and lunged for his neck.

Venser recoiled and the creature came away with only air. It struggled to its knees and lashed out with its misshapen claws. Half of it was pocked metal and the rest was twisted meat, Venser realized in horror. A plate of metal covered its face where its eyes would be. And its stretched skull ended in a grotesque, fang-packed maw that it jacked wide in a silent scream.

Suddenly there were four more of the monstrosities, charging out from behind a hill-their rotting bodies sticky in the green air.

Elspeth drew her sword and in one fluid motion separated the skull from the nearest one. Black fluid spattered against the side of Venser and the creature’s body crumbled with a dull thud to the metal ground. Instantly the others were upon them. Koth put up his arms and narrowly escaped having his face bitten as he pushed the thing back with his stony forearm plates. He brought his fist forward in a ruthless blow that crumpled the thing’s face plate and sent it spinning back.

Two zombies tackled Venser and the three rolled over each other. They came out on top and pressed their gaping jaws at Venser’s neck. The disgust and effort showed on the artificer’s face as he struggled to shove them away. Their jaws snapped as they began to press closer.

A slight blue tinge began to glow around Venser, and in the next moment all three forms were suddenly gone, leaving only a wisp of blue.

Venser and the bewildered zombies appeared in the same position high, high above the glimmering expanse of Mirrodin. The next instant they all three began to fall. The creatures thrashed as they fell. But a blue glow appeared around Venser again and he blinked out of existence … and back to the ground, where he stood up and brushed his clothes off.

Elspeth heard a sound and turned as a large form lumbered toward her. Its snags of teeth were as long as her head. It towered above Elspeth, dripping dark slime as it squeezed between two large boulders. Elspeth moved her greatsword to her left hand and then to her right, judging how to attack. From her indecisiveness, it was clear to Venser that she was not altogether sure she could best the adversary.

Koth stepped next to him. The geomancer brought his hands together in a decisive motion. The boulders on each side of the thing slammed together, crushing the beast and sending a spray of black ichor over them all.

Just then the two that Venser had teleported into the stratosphere came crashing to the ground and burst into wet pieces.

By the time Elspeth had cleaned and sheathed her greatsword, Venser was looking closely at the dead, if, indeed, they had ever been alive enough to be called dead.

The pieces of them that had been made of flesh did not bleed, so dried out was the meat. Their metal parts were pitted and corroded. The articulating metal plates, like fitted armor, covered where their eyes would have been. A series of tubes thrust out of the ribs. The larger of the creatures had more tubes.

“What are those?” Venser said, prodding one of the tubes with a gloved finger.

“They are vents,” Koth said, looking out into the green vapors swirling around them. “They release this necrogen gas, which is what creates more of them. They are called nim.”

“Nim,” Venser said. He pressed on the seam where a nim’s metal arm grew onto its misshapen body, where one of the roped muscles of its back transformed into a conduit of metal that wound up its bicep. “Fascinating.”

“Not how I’d put it,” Koth said. “And it is very bad that they are here. The Mephidross has reached its dark fingers far indeed if the nim are on our doorstep.” He stared down at the crushed giant nim. “If I were them I’d be hiding.”

“Why,” Elspeth said.

“Because the Phyrexians are coming for them as well,” Koth said. “They will take them away and experiment on them, just as they would any of us.”

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