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Literature / Planeswalker

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The war between Urza and Mishra is over. Brooding on the death of his brother at the hands of extraplanar forces, Urza drifts among the planes. But the end of the Brother's War has transformed him into something greater. Deep within his heart, a spark has been kindled to a flame that cannot be quenched. Urza has become a planeswalker.

Planeswalker by Lynn Abbey is the second book in the Artifacts Cycle, corresponding to the black and white portions of the expansion Urza’s Saga. In the aftermath of the Brothers’ War, Urza has become a planeswalker. Driven mad by his brothers’ fate and the godlike powers suddenly granted him, he becomes obsessed with finding and destroying those who have corrupted his brother: the Phyrexians. The book is mostly told from the point of view of Xantcha, a defective Phyrexian newt who accompanies Urza on his journey across the planes.

Urza’s saga is continued in Time Streams.

Tropes include:

  • Aborted Arc: The novel has several subtle hints that Xantcha was created from Mishra's body. First Gix calls Xantcha his "special one" even though there were thousands of newts in her batch. The second is Xantcha mentioning being bad at numbers which is something Mishra also struggled with in the previous novel. Finally, Ratepe comments at one point, "You're more like Mishra than I am, must have been something Gix put in your vat." While this explains her connection to Urza, the story never confirms anything.
  • Achilles' Heel: Urza discovers that Phyrexians are vulnerable to high-frequency sounds, as the soundwaves can force the glistening oil that saturates their bodies to separate into its component elements. He exploits this by manufacturing countless "spiders" capable of producing such sounds and has Xantcha and Ratepe spread them throughout the world, killing thousands of Phyrexian infiltrators at once when the tidal pull of the moon sets all the spiders off.
  • Animal Mecha: Urza builds himself a robotic dragon in preparation for his assault on Phyrexia. He boasts that it's far more powerful than any of Mishra's dragon engines from the previous book, though unlike them it needs to be piloted.
  • Arm Cannon: At one point, Xantcha battles a Phyrexian priest whose left arm has the barrel of a Ray Gun in place of a hand.
  • Big Bad: In this book, Phyrexia takes center stage as Urza’s archenemy.
  • Catchphrase: Xantcha is fond of saying "Waste not, want not", a Phyrexian maxim that she tends to use as a curse.
  • Celestial Paragons and Archangels: A native of Serra’s Realm at one point explains the angelic hierarchy to Xantcha.
  • Civil War: The nation of Efuan Pincar is locked in a bloody war between the Shratta, a fanatical religious sect, and the Red Stripes, an unscrupulous mercenary band which opposes them.
  • Dimensional Traveller: The titular Planeswalkers, and by proxy those who travel with them such as Xantcha. The Phyrexians have a technological means of doing this.
  • Endless Daytime: Serra's Realm doesn’t have a day-night cycle, and the whole plane is lit up like it's in a state of perpetual sunrise even though there's no sun.
  • Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Serra’s Realm has shades of this.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Urza’s musings on the possibility of traveling back in time to prevent Phyrexia from coming into existence. Read the next book to see how that turns out.
    • During Urza's attack on Phyrexia, Xantcha tries to bluff her way past a priest by claiming that a demon sent her to protect the hearts in the Fane of Flesh. When the priest demands to know which demon sent her, she names Gix. Xantcha believes Gix to be dead at this point, but the priest's fearful reaction and immediate obeisance foreshadow the later revelation that Gix is alive and back in power.
  • Forgot About His Powers: Urza once gave Xantcha a crystal that she could break to summon him if she needed his help, but she's been wearing the thing around her neck without using it for so many thousands of years that she forgot what it does. She only remembers the crystal after being caught in a storm with Ratepe for three days and getting stuck in the ocean, at which point she feels very foolish. She then breaks the crystal... and it takes Urza a day to come rescue them, because he himself forgot what the signal the crystal is giving off represents.
  • Full-Conversion Cyborg: Phyrexians start out as flesh-and-blood newts but gradually replace most of their bodies with machinery. At one point, Xantcha pries the faceplate off a dead Phyrexian priest to show Urza and Ratepe that nothing remains of its original body but its brain.
  • The Fundamentalist: The Shratta are violent religious extremists who burn any text which contradicts their holy book and torture anyone who fails to meet their exacting standards of piety.
  • Healing Factor: Downplayed. Xantcha can heal much faster than an ordinary human, but that just means it takes days to recover from injuries like a broken arm or a cracked skull instead of months.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Xantcha and Ratepe save Urza from Gix, ending their own lives and leaving him with only her heartstone to remind him he will never be alone.
  • Human Resources: When a newt dies or has a piece of itself cut away to be replaced with artifice, the flesh is taken down to the rendering vats. There it is either made into a stew for the other newts to eat, or used to grow more newts.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: In Phyrexia, newts are treated as interchangeable and expendable. They aren't given names, only temporary numerical designators, and all the ones in Xantcha's batch are physically identical. Then she meets another newt which thinks of itself as Xantcha, and the two of them alter their appearances to distinguish themselves from one another. The other newts are horrified when they see this, since only priests have the right to modify a newt, and this act of insurrection draws the attention of Gix. From that point onward, Xantcha is treated like a freak and an outcast by the other newts.
  • Interdimensional Travel Device: The Phyrexians use machines called ambulators to open portals between their world and other planes of the multiverse. Each ambulator opens to one specific point on one specific world once it has been configured, and they are not permanent structures: a Phyrexian can "unanchor" the ambulator from either end and pull it through itself as they depart, taking the portal with them.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Late in the book, Xantcha and Ratepe travel to Koilos where they discover that the Thran and the Phyrexians were one and the same. When the novel came out, this was a massive shock and a big twist. Decades later, practically everyone knows that the Thran became the Phyrexians; there's even a book explaining how it happened and how Yawgmoth rose to power.
  • Long-Lived: the people of Equilor live unfathomably long lives. The youngest member of the family which takes in Xantcha and Urza is eighty Dominarian years old and still a toddler, while the adults are so old that they consider Urza—who has been an immortal planeswalker for two thousand years at this point—akin to a child who's barely been weaned.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: In Serra's Realm, Xantcha meets a human woman, Sosinna, who confides that she is in love with Kenidiern, a male angel. Xantcha assumes that their relationship is frowned upon, since experience has shown her that interspecies relationships being discouraged is the rule in most parts of the multiverse. She's right.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When Xantcha wakes up in Serra's Realm after a battle with the Phyrexians to find a strange woman watching over her, she immediately bombards this woman with questions about where she is and what happened to Urza. The woman's answers are accurate, but unhelpful.
    Xantcha: How did I get here?
    Woman: I don’t know.
    Xantcha: How long have I been here?
    Woman: Since you arrived.
    Xantcha: Where am I?
    Woman: Where you are.
  • Money Mauling: Xantcha has a pouch full of black coins which ignite when thrown and explode on impact. The blast is powerful enough to kill a person instantly on a hit and blow "goat-sized craters" into the ground on a miss.
  • The Needless: Urza no longer needs sustenance or sleep since he became an immortal planeswalker. He still needs to dream, however, so he sleeps on occasion.
  • No Biological Sex: None of the Newts have a sex, an oversight in their production that nearly screwed Xantcha over when it was eventually realized her intended mission as an infiltrator wouldn't work because of it. She started identifying as female after being mentally influenced by Gix.
  • Not the Intended Use: Xantcha's cyst was meant to coat her in a protective film so Urza could take her with him on his planeswalking excursions without her dying horribly. She figured out a way to make this film form a bubble which lets her fly, something Urza never intended and which he sees as a perversion of his creation.
  • Please Kill Me if It Satisfies You: During their multiversal travels, Urza comes to believe that Xantcha was deliberately planted in his path by Yawgmoth to lead him astray and lure other Phyrexians to him, and he contemplates abandoning her. Horrified at the thought that she might be unconsciously betraying her only friend and not wanting to be left alone to live out her immortal life in isolation, she gives Urza her heartstone, telling him to crush it and kill her if he truly believes she's untrustworthy. He never does.
  • The Power of Creation: Urza can magic clothing into existence with a thought and can transmute one substance into another, such as turning a wooden door into a stone wall or turning a part of that same wall into a loaf of tasteless but edible bread. There are limits to what he can do, however: the things he creates with his magic are not quite "real", and it's taxing to try to create bigger, more complex objects. Because of this, he chooses to build his dragon engine the old-fashioned way.
  • Power Incontinence: When Urza sleeps, he unconsciously projects his nightmares into the waking world as terrifying phantasms and illusions. This forces him and Xantcha to dwell far away from other people, lest the ghostly apparitions of Phyrexian horrors disturb the neighbors.
  • Psychic Block Defense: When Gix first tries to impose his will on Xantcha with a psychic attack, she instinctively resists him by compartmentalizing her mind so he can't access her true thoughts and feelings while filling the part that he can access with images that he would find distasteful.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Urza being a planeswalker, he can look as young or old as he wants to. Xantcha physically resembles a thirteen year old boy, but is actually over three thousand years old.
  • Sanity Slippage: Everything that Urza went through at the end of the Brothers' War has done a number on his sanity. By the present day he is prone to getting lost in his memories of the past, obsessively recreating important scenes of his history with Mishra down to the most minute detail in dioramas consisting of gnat-sized automatons in a crazed attempt to find some sliver of the truth that he was not previously privy to. Then he'll come to his senses and stare at the diorama in confusion, not even realizing that he made the thing, and sweep it all off the table. His deteriorating mental state drives Xantcha to seek out someone who looks like Mishra in the hope that seeing his "brother" again will somehow stabilize Urza.
  • Sonic Stunner: Urza's "spiders" are tiny artifacts which produce intense high-frequency sounds in response to the tidal pull of Dominaria's Glimmer Moon. These sounds have little effect on ordinary humans, but they boil the glistening oil within a Phyrexian's veins, causing compleat Phyrexians and sleeper agents alike to die a slow and gory death.
  • Soul Jar: Phyrexian heartstones are halfway between this and Animating Artifact. Each heartstone is tied to the life force of a specific Phyrexian; the Phyrexian will die if its corresponding stone is destroyed, and the stone will shatter if its linked Phyrexian is killed. The priests instill obedience in newborn newts by taking away their heartstones and warning them that every mistake they make will be punished with one scratch to the stone, with enough scratches eventually resulting in death.
  • Speak of the Devil: The Phyrexians have a strong taboo against speaking the name of their ruler Yawgmoth, referring to him as “The Ineffable”.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: Equilor has very few stars in its night sky because the plane is so old that its stars are dying out. One of them goes into a visible supernova while Xantcha and Urza are visiting the plane, which the locals take as an omen of impending change.
  • Taken for Granite: In their final duel, Gix zaps Urza with a magical ray that turns him to stone and shatters him. Being an immortal planeswalker, Urza reforms himself in moments.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Low-ranking Phyrexians are compleated with metals that aren't rustproof, so they're terrified of getting wet. The ones who were part of Xantcha's team on her last mission would run for the safety of the portal whenever it rained.
  • Wizard Duel: The climax of the book sees Urza and Gix throw down, pitting their vast magical powers against each other. Urza wins the first bout, forcing Gix to retreat to Koilos, but the second bout is far more even. Gix almost wins, but Xantcha and Ratepe sacrifice themselves to disrupt his final spell, seemingly killing him.
  • World in the Sky: Serra's Realm is nothing but a series of islands floating in a sea of clouds.
  • You Are Number 6: Newts aren't given proper names, just numerical designators representing their position within a cadre. These designations are subject to change as cadres take casualties and get merged, but Xantcha's cadre had kept the same designations for so long that she and the other newts all became attached to them as if they were names.
  • Your Magic Is No Good Here: The balance of mana is heavily skewed toward white in Serra's Realm, with black mana being almost entirely absent by design. Because of this, Xantcha's black-mana-powered cyst doesn't work properly while she's here. It churns in her stomach when she tries to use it, the film is much slower to emerge than usual, and when it comes out, it's jet black and caustic instead of transparent: Xantcha can't see through it when she tries to form a sphere, and when she covers herself in her armor, it muffles her hearing and burns her skin.