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Ertai of Tolaria
The Phyrexian War was a bloody battle, one that claimed countless lives on both sides of the war. It was a war of mana and artifice, with the treacherous Phyrexians corrupting the souls of Dominaria’s defenders wherever they could. Urza Planeswalker, Crovax of Urborg, the Mercadian Magistrate, Radiant of Serra’s Realmall were at one point transformed from the path of light into the realm of darkness by Yawgmoth’s demented vision. But perhaps the most tragic of these tales of corruption is that of Ertai of Tolaria.
“Why should I boast? The bards will do it for meand with music. I’m too modest a wizard to reveal the full extent of my abilities.”
Ertai was enrolled at the Tolarian Academy at a very early age. During his long studies, Ertai immediately proved himself as a child prodigy, mastering difficult spells that had taken other wizards years to learn. As Ertai became a young man, it seemed as if there would be no end to his achievements given sufficient time. Indeed, Ertai’s dedication paid off when he was close to sixteen years of age, as Mage Master Barrin granted him the title of Wizard Adept. Ertai had barely a moment to digest this glorious piece of news when Barrin presented him with a challenge. Barrin’s daughter Hanna, long at odds with her father, had returned to Tolaria aboard a strange flying ship. Accompanying her were an assortment of strange beings, each dedicated to a single goal. Weatherlight, this strange and wondrous device, had recently lost her captain to the evil evincar of the plane of Rath. Hanna asked for Barrin’s assistance, but the wizard was far too busy, opting to send Ertai in his stead. Ertai demonstrated his vast magical ability to the crew, winning the respect of all the crew save one: Barrin’s daughter, Hanna. Hanna felt that artifacts were the wave of the future, vastly superior to any magic spell in form and function. Ertai disagreed; in fact, during his studies on Tolaria Ertai had avoided artifacts as much as possible. Still, Weatherlight’s current captain, Gerrard Capashen, had decided that Ertai was skilled enough for the rescue attempt. Gerrard, it seemed, was at the center of a mysterious destiny, one what was somehow connected to a collection of artifacts known as the Legacy. Although Ertai knew nothing of the Legacy, he saw his departure from Tolaria as a way of spreading his fame around the globe. Ertai happily left his longtime home.
“Tolaria floats upon a wheel of fortune.”
Before Weatherlight could enter Rath, Ertai must solve the riddle of the Thran Crystal. This wondrous device was said to possess the ability to planeshift Weatherlight and all aboard her to other worlds. Ertai devoted his time to learning more about this peculiar artifact, feeling very confident that with enough study he would have Weatherlight on its way to rescue her captain very soon. During this time, Weatherlight made several journeys. Weatherlight’s first destination was the barbaric wasteland of Bogardan, where Gerrard led a team in the rescue of Starke. Starke had long served as the Rathi evincar Volrath’s personal assassin, and would doubtlessly provide much information about Rath and the dangers to come. Next, Weatherlight journeyed to the swampland of Urborg to recruit Crovax, a nobleman driven mad by the deaths of his family. After these two missions were complete, Weatherlight was prepared to embark on its darkest journey to date.
Ertai cast a spell on the Thran Crystal, transporting Weatherlight to the horrid plane of Rath. Almost immediately upon entering the plane, Weatherlight was attacked by Predator, Volrath’s flagship. Predator proved Weatherlight’s superior, and it wasn’t long before the flying ship was boarded. During the opening salvo of the attack, Gerrard was thrown overboard by Volrath’s second in command, Command Greven il-Vec. Even worse, Greven’s strange mogg soldiers, hideous goblins in the service of Volrath, stole the pieces of the Legacy. Included among the lost Legacy artifacts was the Thran Crystal, which was shattered and lifeless in the wake of the attack. Predator departed the scene, leaving Weatherlight in a worse state than when it had started.
Ertai aided Orim, the ship’s healer, in any way he could during the aftermath of the battle. Hanna, acting as ship’s captain, ordered a landing in the only hospitable terrain anyone could see, a strange forest that seemed almost impenetrable from the air. Word soon reached Ertai that the attack had gone even worse than expected. Karn the silver golem, himself a part of the Legacy, had been taken by Greven’s forces as well. In pursuit of his friend, the minotaur first mate Tahngarth, had also been taken captive. Ertai began to feel that his adventures on Weatherlight were not to be as grand as he had once believed. Weatherlight landed in the strange forest, and the crew at once began to make repairs. While the ship was under repair, Hanna and Mirri, a cat warrior and Gerrard’s closest friend, departed the ship to search for Gerrard’s body.
During Hanna and Mirri’s absence, Weatherlight was struck by another measure of bad luck. A clan of elves, apparently believing Weatherlight’s arrival was an attack on their home, was slowly surrounding the ship. Crovax and Ertai managed to keep the elves at a standstill, neither side intent on being the aggressor. Later that day, just as it seemed the elves were finally intent on attacking, Gerrard Capashen returned, whole, healthy, and ordering the elves to halt.
Ertai learned that Gerrard had been inadvertently saved from certain death by Crovax’s guardian angel, Selenia. As good as this news was for the crew, it also meant that Crovax’s friend and love was now in the service of Rath’s master. Apparently, Gerrard was being hailed as the mystical Uniter of the free peoples of Rath, fulfilling a prophecy that was hundreds of years old. Gerrard’s appearance inspired the rebels of Rath, including the elves of the forest of Skyshroud, to unite in an attack against Volrath’s rule. A plan was hatched: while the Skyshroud elves and the human tribes of the Vec and Dal attacked Volrath’s Stronghold’s front gate, Weatherlight could enter the fortress completely unnoticed. However, one small problem still remained. The Thran Crystal was completely beyond repair; if Weatherlight was to escape Rath, it must find another way to planeshift. Eladamri, leader of the Skyshroud elves, told Gerrard of a mystical portal that was said to lead to another world. Gerrard agreed to investigate the portal, setting out days later for a nearby canyon.
Ertai and Orim began their inspection of the mysterious portal. Ertai felt certain that he could open the portal, given another day to study its glyphs. Gerrard reluctantly agreed to leave Ertai at the canyon while the rest of the crew flew to the Stronghold. During Weatherlight’s absence, Ertai was contacted by a most peculiar phantom. Lyna, an emissary from a race of ghosts known as the Soltari, appeared before Ertai with an offer of aid. Lyna’s races had long ago been trapped in between reality and nightmare, pulled to Rath from Dominaria many hundreds of years ago. In exchange for her aid, Lyna asked only that her people be allowed to escape this hellish existence by entering the portal. Ertai considered it a fair trade, but requested that Lyna journey to the Stronghold and inform his friends of her plans. Lyna departed, leaving Ertai to his examination of the ancient portal.
“Mine is not the warmth of compassion.”
It soon became apparent that Ertai would never open the portal. The wizard adept had studied day and night, but could not even get a feel of the magical forces the portal contained. As the day wore on, Ertai witnessed a dreadful sight. Weatherlight was hurling toward the portal, many times faster than it had ever traveled in the past. Predator pursued the smaller ship, gaining on it all the while. Just as Weatherlight began to enter the canyon, the portal suddenly sprang to life. Ertai gritted his teeth and leapt from the side of the canyon, desperately hoping to land on Weatherlight. The next few moments were horrible, but it soon became apparent that Weatherlight has passed through the portal. Just as it had done so, the portal closed as suddenly as it had opened, crushing Predator against it and nearly destroying the dark ship. As for Ertai, he had landed safely aboard one of the two ships. Unfortunately, his dangerous leap had left him aboard Predator. As Ertai stared into the horrible eyes of Greven il-Vec, he vowed revenge on Gerrard Capashen and his crew for leaving him to this horrible fate.
Ertai was immediately taken prison by Greven’s forces, locked in the bowels of Predator. As the broken ship pitifully returned home, Ertai began to realize that his only recourse was to turn a bad situation to his advantage. Greven admitted that without Ertai’s help, the ship would crash before reaching the Stronghold. Ertai almost eagerly aided Predator with his considerable magical abilities, earning the admiration, if not the trust, of Greven il-Vec. However, the Stronghold was not the center of mindless obedience Ertai had come to believe. The fortress was in chaos, apparently due to the disappearance of its master, Volrath. In payment for his services, Ertai was allowed to view a mysterious artifact capable of establishing communication between Rath and Phyrexia, the overlords that were the real power behind the throne of Rath. These strange beings informed Greven that a Phyrexian ambassador, one who was even now appearing in the Stronghold’s Dream Halls, would decide Volrath’s replacement.
“There’s always someone bigger around who expects you to bow and scrape jus to get along, isn’t there?”
Ertai was bodily dragged to Volrath’s former station and bore witness to a strange sight. Crovax, the nobleman of Urborg who had accompanied Weatherlight to Rath, was alive and well. What’s more, he was also stating his claim as evincar of Rath.
Before Greven’s wrath took the life of Crovax, the Phyrexian ambassador suddenly appeared. Seemingly an elven girl of merely a few hundred years, the ambassador immediately put a halt to the skirmish between Crovax and Greven il-Vec. Upon witnessing Ambassador Belbe, Ertai began to feel a strange connection with the girl. Belbe ordered Greven to take Ertai to the Dread Lord’s torture chambers to divine what secrets he could. Ertai, long a stranger to physical pain, readily agreed to disclose whatever information he could to his new masters. Still, Greven’s lust for torture could not be reasoned with, and it was not long before Ertai felt the Dread Lord’s wrath.
“A modicum of resistance is mandatory. After all, I am the most naturally talented sorcerer of the age.”
When Ertai finally awoke, he beheld the strange elven girl Belbe, come to offer what aid she could. Belbe promised Ertai that he was even now being considered as a candidate for the throne of Rath. However, his competition was fierce. Greven was an experienced warrior and was privy to many of Volrath’s secrets. Crovax had been taken to Phyrexia, imbued with some fraction of the Hidden One’s power. If Ertai were to hope to compete against these forces, he had much to do and learn.
Belbe led Ertai to one of Volrath’s laboratories. In the center of the room lay a strange machine, capable of infusing its target with black mana, curing all wounds but surely clouding the mind. Ertai’s vanity aside, the young wizard feared that he would never again be able to cast the spells he was so proud of in his younger days. Clinging to the ropes of Predator had shredded Ertai’s hands, preventing them from ever again wielding arcane magic. Ertai reluctantly agreed to use the machine. Immediately, his body was healed, but the wizard also noticed his affinity for the five colors of magic had been shifted.
Days passed, and Ertai began the long road to recovery. The young wizard spent much of his time with Belbe, constantly attempting to understand how such a beautiful creature could exist to serve the whims of the horrors of Phyrexia. Greven il-Vec soon provided Ertai and Belbe with distressing news. Crovax had left the Stronghold with a large contingent of il warriors, hoping to put an end to the threat of the rebel Eladamri once and for all. Gerrard Capashen’s arrival in Rath had had a disastrous effect on the Stronghold’s forces. Now, instead of facing a singular force in the Skyshroud elves, the dark fortress had to contend with the rebel tribes of the Vec and Dal as well. What’s more, Greven feared that, should the Stronghold prove victorious against the rebels, it might inspire the human tribes living within the mountain to rebel. Ertai hatched a plan both brilliant and foolhardy. Greven’s forces would take many of the il-Vec, il-Kor, and il-Dal as hostages, hopefully preventing their families from taking arms up against the Stronghold. Greven was impressed by the unexpected savagery of the Tolarian. At this moment, Greven also announced to Belbe that he had no intention of contending for the throne of Rath. Although Belbe was curious, Ertai felt reassured that he now had only one enemy with which to contend.
As Ertai’s stay in the Stronghold turned from days to weeks, the young wizard made a horrifying discovery. Although his body had been completely healed by Volrath’s mana-infusing device, its effects proved only temporary. Ertai had to continually use the device in order to have any hope of claiming Rath from Crovax.
Ertai’s plan of taking the human tribes hostage was working flawlessly. Ertai and Belbe journeyed through the streets of the City of Traitors, eventually meeting with Commander Greven. Already, nearly six thousand Stronghold inhabitants had been taken hostage. Unfortunately, Ertai and Greven had had a disagreement on just which hostages would prove the most valuable. Instead of taking the strongest humans as hostages, Greven had elected to capture the weakest. In this way, Greven hoped to inspire fear in the remaining free Stronghold tribes, who would surely not raise a hand against the throne if their women, children, and elderly were taken captive. Despite Greven’s shortsightedness, Ertai’s plan was proceeding nicely.
“I used to think I knew right from wrong. That was before I began my advanced studies in magic. Then I learned that power is power, regardless of its origin. Any species can be used to kill or cure, if that’s so, how can any of it be good or evil? It simply is. I think people are like that, too. We simply are.”
Days later, Ertai was made privy to a horrible secret. The entire six thousand hostages had disappeared without any trace. Ertai and Belbe rushed through the City of Traitors, only to behold a sight more horrible than any either had ever beheld. All six thousand hostages, man, woman, and child, had been mercilessly executed. In the center of the slaughter, Crovax calmly sat enjoying a meal. Crovax explained that he had been drained from his expedition into the Skyshroud, a foolish endeavor which had cost him the lives of almost all of his troops. In order to replenish his power, Crovax needed to feed on the souls of his victims. He found a bloody banquet in the assembled hostages. Ertai at last began to understand that he had been foolish in believing he could ever steal the throne from Crovax. Against such mindless bloodlust, Ertai’s clever wit and potent magic could never prevail.
“How can I defeat a man who does things like this? How can you allow a monster like him to rule this entire world?”
As the now-operational Predator led the remnants of Crovax’s army to the Stronghold, Ertai and Belbe began spending more and more time together. Ertai felt that Belbe was the closest thing to a friend he could enjoy in this dark place. Belbe confided that she was sent to Rath for a singular purpose, but a purpose that was of the utmost importance to the Hidden One’s plans. The Dark Lord Yawgmoth had his priests place a small artifact within Belbe’s body, one that was even now relaying everything she encountered to the god of screaming metal. Belbe felt a great sadness in her existence, and Ertai hoped that he could provide Belbe with a temporary reprieve from her sorrows. Ertai cast a spell which he hoped would disable the Dark One’s gaze, if only for a little while. After fulfilling Belbe’s greatest wish, Ertai and the Phyrexian emissary shared a brief night of passion in the twisted horrors of Volrath’s bedchamber.
“I have a notion for you, Belbe. Exist to be yourself! Loyalty is an admirable trait, but you can’t cling to it in the face of certain destruction!”
When Ertai awoke, he found Belbe gone. In her place stood the future evincar of Rath. Crovax mocked Ertai for attempting to attract Belbe’s favor through his own machinations. Belbe returned, ordering Crovax to attend to his duties in the Stronghold. With a shudder, Belbe admitted to Ertai that Yawgmoth’s Eye was not the thing that frightened her the most. More horrible than that was the unbridled glee she felt in causing pain and suffering to the barbarian Crovax.
A most tremendous occasion had just occurred, one that was dreamed of in the mind of Volrath for several years. Eladamri had been taken capture. Ertai had but mere moments to discern this news before his was taken captive by Crovax’s loyal minions. Belbe rushed to Ertai’s side as soon as she was made aware of the situation, but it was no use. Crovax and his men vowed Ertai’s death if the ambassador did not elect the former noble as the new evincar. Reluctantly, or rather finding no other alternative for the post, Belbe agreed to install Crovax as the new master of the world of Rath the following day.
His victory surely at hand, Crovax ensnared Ertai in an elaborate deathtrap. Ertai was imprisoned in a huge block of flowstone near the lower docking port of Predator. There, the close proximity of the plasma beam that converted the lava of Rath’s core to flowstone would slowly melt the flowstone block, eventually plummeting Ertai to his doom. Still, the Tolarian wizard was not without magical resources. Ertai created a small sphere potent enough to seek out Belbe and hypnotize her into coming to his rescue.
Nearly an hour later, Belbe rushed to Ertai’s aid. With mere moments to go before plummeting to his death, Ertai could only helplessly watch the scene before him. Crovax had followed Belbe to the chamber, vowing that he would free the boy if only the ambassador would put off all pretenses and finally crown him master of Rath. With no alternatives, Belbe agreed without hesitation. Ertai was freed, left to die in the horrendous heat while another monster was crowned Rath’s king.
Ertai slowly, painfully, crept away from the room, somehow finding the strength to navigate the maze of the Stronghold’s corridors and reach the throne room. Once there, Ertai could only watch dumbstruck as a strange scene unfolded. Moments before Crovax was crowned evincar, a new candidate had arrived. The man responsible for the extinction of countless races, the deaths of millions of noble souls, had returned to regain his rightful throne. Volrath was back. Finding one last opportunity to prevent the monster Crovax from ascending the steps of the throne, Belbe ordered a new contest begin. Crovax would battle Volrath, and the victor would retain the throne, becoming lord over the plane of Rath and soon the plane of Dominaria. Crovax and Volrath battled for what seemed like hours, until Ertai at last made a fateful decision. The young wizard realized that under Volrath’s rule, he would be quickly executed as a former ally of Gerrard Capashen. It was only under Crovax’s control could the Stronghold find a useful place for the Tolarian wizard. With the last of his strength, Ertai manipulated the flowstone floor beneath the duelists feet, tripping Volrath and allowing Crovax the upper hand. As Crovax’s boot settled on the former evincar’s throat, Belbe could deny it no longer: Crovax had become lord of Rath.
Ertai quickly returned to the mana infuser, regaining his strength in mere seconds. After healing, Ertai followed the sounds of battle emanating from the direction of the Dream Halls. Along the way, Ertai learned that the Lord of Leaves Eladamri had been liberated from exile by a band of rebels posing as servants of the Stronghold. Crovax’s forces had pursued the rebels to the Dream Halls, preventing further escape, but also finding an impenetrable wall of flowstone barring their path. Ertai volunteered his services to Rath’s new evincar. Crovax admitted that Ertai’s deception had not gone unnoticed, and, unlike Volrath, Crovax knew best how to treat his new allies. Still, in Ertai’s heart, he dreaded the fate that would befriend him. Even worse than this, he immediately discerned Belbe’s plan. The ambassador was doubtlessly offering Eladamri and his forces escaping from Rath via the ambulator she had used to enter the plane. Ertai’s fears were justified as Crovax’s men finally burst into the room. A scant few rebels remained, quickly slaughtered by the fury of the soldiers of Rath. In the center of the room lay the dead body of Belbe, taken from Ertai just as his chances of returning to Dominaria were.
Thus did Ertai fall from grace. The once noble, although arrogant, wizard was taken under the gruesome wing of Rath’s newest evincar. Ertai was taken to Phyrexia where his body was mutilated into a hideous parody of his former self. Ertai skin became rock-hard and twisted. His boyish features were distorted so that they must forever remain hidden from view. His arms, potent weapons in the hands of a spellcaster, were transformed, growing knew appendages that sprouted from his elbows. Ertai returned to Rath, corrupted for all time, dedicated to the vision of a powerful false god, and filled with a dark vanity that could only originate from his tortured mind.
Once Ertai returned to Rath, he had one last duty to perform before the great planeshift could occur. Ertai created a vile concoction, able to separate the atoms making up the body into individual pieces, effectively melting the victim. Once his creation was complete, Crovax ordered Ertai to inject the vial into the arm that had withheld Rath’s “justice” for nearly a decade. In this way, Ertai slew Volrath, cementing Crovax’s victory for all time. Before returning to his duties, however, Ertai paused to reflect on his former love for the Phyrexian ambassador Belbe, whose body was even then being cremated. Stopping by her corpse, Ertai discovered one single part of Belbe yet remained intact: the Eye of Yawgmoth. Fearing the Dark Lord’s manipulations as never before, Ertai crushed the Eye and returned to his lair in the Stronghold.
Ertai readied himself for the final showdown with the forces of Dominaria during the next few days. Together with Crovax and Greven, the corrupted wizard began plotting the Stronghold’s role in the coming planar overlay. Already, the first wave of the invasion was raging. Phyrexia had scored many crucial victories, but was unable to gain a steady foothold in the plane. Still, that mattered little when compared with the horrors to come. As the Rathi overlay at last took place, the Stronghold settled near Crovax’s family estate in the festering swamp of Urborg.
At last, Weatherlight could tolerate the Stronghold’s presence no longer. Greven and Ertai boarded Predator, attacking the ship as it had months earlier during the incursion of Weatherlight into Rath. This time, however, it was not Predator’s goal to achieve victory. As Greven led his minions in a direct assault on Weatherlight’s crew, Ertai masked his presence until he was at last close enough to the ship’s commander, Gerrard Capashen. As Greven’s lifeless body was thrown from the ship by the minotaur Tahngarth, Ertai grabbed Gerrard and the goblin cabin hand Squee, teleporting them to the throne of Crovax.
“Don’t worry, Gerrard. I’m sure the crew will come to your rescue as quickly as they came to mine.”
Ertai held Gerrard captive as Crovax attempted to explain Yawgmoth’s vision to the Benalish master-at-arms. Gerrard still defied the Dark Lord, refusing the numerous gifts that could be his if he but allied with the forces of Phyrexia. In payment, Crovax had the goblin cabin hand Squee executed before Gerrard’s eyes. Crovax revealed how Yawgmoth had returned his angel love Selenia to life. What’s more, should Gerrard accept the offer his beloved Hanna, dead at the hands of a Phyrexian plague, could also be returned to him. Gerrard broke free of Ertai’s grasp and assaulted the ascendant evincar with little success. Within moments, Gerrard was once again under Crovax’s control.
Crovax attempted to explain to Gerrard that the Dominarian Coalition was doomed. Already, the lives of the metathran Commander Agnate and the dragon lord Rhammidarigaaz had been claimed. Now, the Coalition’s greatest asset was in the clutches of Yawgmoth. Urza Planeswalker, founder of the Tolarian Academy, despoiler of Argoth, and the one hope for Dominaria’s survival was even then on his face in the worship of the Father of Machines. Crovax revealed as much to Gerrard, opening a portal directly into the heart of Phyrexia. There, Urza Planeswalker stood in worship. Near him, the haunting eyes of Gerrard’s love Hanna stood pleading for the Benalish to enter and embrace her. Like a puppet, Gerrard agreed to Crovax’s proposal. Dominaria’s two greatest leaders bowed in worship to the god of Phyrexia.
As the Dark Lord readied himself for his newest prize, Ertai and Crovax basked in the glory of utter victory. Crovax enjoyed occasional battles against the forces of Yavimaya, the forest nation that had somehow transplanted a part of itself to Urborg. Ertai’s twisted mind was more than content to resign Squee to the endless torture that now awaited him. In attempting to prove Yawgmoth’s dominion over the dead to Gerrard, Crovax had asked Yawgmoth to raise Squee from the dead. The effect was longer lasting than Ertai had suspected, however. Squee could be killed a hundred times a day, and each time his warty body would rise for more torture.
As Crovax contented himself in the fury of battle, Ertai divided his time between torturing Squee and watching the events even now unfolding in the Ninth Sphere. Urza Planeswalker had been stripped of his immortality, forced to battle his bastard “child” Gerrard Capashen to the death. At last, Gerrard managed the upper hand over the four-thousand year old planeswalker, decapitating his hated father figure with an almost sadistic glee. However, Gerrard held the Ineffable to some twisted bargain. Apparently, in payment for serving the Dark Lord, Gerrard expected Hanna to be returned to Dominaria, whole and healthy. After realizing the horrible truththat the Hanna before him was one of Yawgmoth’s illusionsGerrard rebelled against Ertai’s dark master. Gerrard was expelled from the Ninth Sphere, landing in a pitiful heap in Crovax’s throne room. Before Ertai’s mogg forces could surround Gerrard, however, Squee came to his master’s rescue. With an immortal goblin and a demi-god with the power of the Ineffable on his side, Ertai was hard pressed to find a weakness in the Dominarians’ defenses. With no recourse, Ertai called for Crovax to return from his dark revelry.
As Crovax battled the enhanced Gerrard Capashen, Ertai furiously pursued the goblin Squee through the corridors of the Stronghold. Each time Ertai used one of his considerable spells, Squee died only to rise again. In time, Ertai felt his powerful magic dwindling. The corrupted mage attempted to flee to the mana infuser, hoping to heal his body and recharge his mind. However, this action would be Ertai’s last. In a fevered delirium brought about by the continuous deaths he was forced to endure, Squee attacked Ertai, believing him to be his favorite meala giant beetle. Ertai was horrifically attacked by the goblin while still recharging, causing the mana infuser to go haywire, ending Ertai’s life immediately.