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Literature / Time Streams

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Karn striking a pose.
Time Streams, published by J. Robert King in April 1999, is the third book of the Artifacts Cycle. Picking up a few decades after the end of Planeswalker, Urza has established an academy at the remote isle of Tolaria, where he conducts time travel experiments. His goal is to travel back in time to prevent the Thran from turning into the Phyrexians. However, before long things go catastrophically wrong…

This book is where the status of Urza’s saga as prequel to the Weatherlight Saga really comes to the fore, as it explains the origins of Karn and the Weatherlight and also introduces Teferi and Hanna’s father Barrin. It corresponds to the blue and red portions of Urza’s Saga and to Urza’s Legacy. The Artifacts Cycle is concluded in Bloodlines.

Tropes in Time Streams:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Teferi has a crush on Jhoira and tries to win her affection in various ways. Jhoira views him as an annoying little creep and wishes he would leave her alone. Her opinion of him softens in the decades after the academy's destruction, however, and they eventually become friends.
  • Adaptive Ability: This, coupled with the facts that he lives in a fast-time bubble, is how Kerrick manages to stay several steps ahead of Urza.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Several students try to rescue a man who stumbled into a slow-time field by pulling on his arm, which is sticking out of the field. To their shock and horror, they end up tearing his arm right off.
  • And I Must Scream: At one point, a sentient tree assimilates Urza into itself and forces him to experience all the pain and suffering he brought to the sentient forests of Argoth as if these sensations were his own. He remains trapped in this state, unable to break free and slowly forgetting his own identity under the constant mental onslaught, for five years.
  • Androids Are People, Too: Or golems, in this case. Everyone who meets Karn quickly realizes that he's an intelligent, self-aware being with his own thoughts and feelings. Barrin repeatedly tries to get Urza to acknowledge this, pointing out that Karn is, for all intents and purposes, a confused child in need of his father's guidance. Unfortunately for Karn, Urza has no interest in being a father to his creation.
  • Angelic Beauty: Radiant, Archangel is the very definition of this. Unfortunately, thanks to her corruption she gets Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon to go with it.
  • Animating Artifact: Xantcha's heartstone is what gives Karn his sentience and personality. Without it, he's just an ordinary, mindless golem. When he travels to the past for the first time and sees Urza take the stone out of him, he's disturbed to realize that this tiny, fragile, easily removed rock contains everything that makes him who he is.
  • Arc Villain: Kerrick is the main antagonist for (most of) this book, but in the grand scheme of things he's just one of Yawgmoth's many Phyrexian underlings.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Karn and Jhoira blow up a cave to stop the tide of Phyrexian reinforcements, only to find themselves surrounded by the ones that came out of the cave previously. There's more than they can hope to fight off, and it seems certain that they’re about to die. Enter Barrin, who obliterates the horde with a battery of spells.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Kerrick has Urza at his mercy twice, and both times he chooses to indulge in some Evil Gloating instead of going straight for the kill. This arrogance costs Kerric a victory the first time and gets him killed the second time.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Urza clearly expects everyone to be wowed by his initial plans for a supersonic airship that can blow whole armies of Phyrexians to smithereens. Instead, Jhoira questions the practicality of the design, pointing out that the resources needed to build just one of these ships could be used to create an army of artifact creatures, and forcing Urza to admit that they simply don't have the resources to make more than one anyway. In response, Urza angrily pulls the plans off the wall and snaps at everyone to get back to work.
  • Cool Airship: The Weatherlight, which is first built and used in this novel.
  • Evil Chancellor: Radiant's counselor Gorig Does not have the realm's best interests at heart. He preys on Radiant's insecurities and stokes her paranoia of Phyrexian infiltrators, convincing her to isolate herself in an increasingly fortified throne room and launch purging missions that do far more harm to her innocent citizens than to the Phyrexians supposedly lurking among them.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Phyrexian Sleeper Agents, which were introduced in the previous book and have infiltrated both Tolaria and Serra's Realm in this book. Radiant thinks the sleepers are among the realm's peasants, when in truth they've infiltrated her palace and are being led by her own war minister, who is himself a Phyrexian demon in disguise. On the Tolaria side, Kerrick is one of these, and probably the most successful of the sleepers.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: When Urza starts bombing K'rrik's fortress, K'rrik tells his minions to cover most of their ballistae with corpses and keep two of them firing half-cocked at regular intervals, to make it seem like Urza did more damage to the ballistae than he actually did. He's counting on this to lull Urza into a false sense of security and bring his dirigible lower, at which point all the ballistae will fire simultaneously now that Urza is within range. The plot works flawlessly: the dirigible is destroyed, and all its crew but Urza and Jhoira are killed.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Radiant very nearly kills Urza Planeswalker, being defeated only by her choice to bring together the Mightstone and Weakstone she pulled out of Urza's head instead of just letting him die. To put this into perspective, the only other non-planeswalker character in all of Magic to manage such a feat was Yawgmoth.
  • Dragon Rider: Urza rides Gherridarigaaz into battle twice, while Barrin rides Rhammidarigaaz during the final battle in Serra's Realm.
  • Driven to Suicide: One of Urza's students throws herself off a cliff out of guilt for accidentally tearing off her boyfriend's arm while trying to free him from a slow-time field.
  • Elixir of Life: Drinking water from a slow-time zone extends the drinker's lifespan by slowing down the aging process. Jhoira has been drinking the stuff for decades and is physically about twenty-two when she is chronologically closer to forty.
  • Explosive Overclocking: The time machine struggles to send Karn more than two days into the past and needs time to cool off between uses. When an emergency forces Urza to send Karn back twice in quick succession, the overstressed machine explodes, leveling the academy and killing many of its occupants.
  • Eye-Dentity Giveaway: Gorig is repeatedly described as having eyes so yellow that they resemble wedges of lemon. When Gorig reveals his true form as a Phyrexian demon at the climax of the book, his lemon-wedge eyes are carried over from his human disguise, allowing Barrin — who had never met Gorig — to recognize him from Urza's description of the man.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Kerrick is a ruggedly handsome and charming man who quickly sweeps Jhoira off her feet. He's also a Phyrexian infiltrator, and he's stringing Jhoira along so he can gain access to the academy and kill everyone there, including her.
  • Fallen Hero: Radiant is one of these.
  • Fantasy Metals: Thran metal is an incredibly hard substance which can only be made in the foundries of the Shivan mana rig. It can scratch steel, adamantine and diamond, it is unaffected by the stress of passing through different time streams, and it grows like a living thing once it has been forged. This last property proves a problem when Urza tries to build robots from the stuff: their Thran metal parts grow into and grind against each other, breaking their more fragile components in the process.
  • Female Angel, Male Demon: Radiant is the angel, Gorig is the demon.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Teferi gets trapped in a slow-time bubble for what feels like a few seconds from his perspective but is actually several decades. When he gets out, he's understandably upset to learn that all his surviving friends and peers are now approaching middle age while he is still a teenager.
  • Genius Loci: The ancient forest of Yavimaya has its own consciousness and will, personified in the maro-sorcerer Multani.
  • God Guise: To maintain control over his followers, Kerrick starts hyping himself up as the "Son of Yawgmoth" and indoctrinating his minions to believe that he is Yawgmoth incarnate.
  • Golem: This book contains the origin story of Karn, Silver Golem.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: Urza suffers a lot of horrific injuries in this book, such as being Gutted Like a Fish repeatedly. His powers let him heal from these grievous wounds, but the pain is still excruciating for him and the healing taxes his mana reserves.
  • The Great Serpent: At one point, Kerrick's wizards summon a gigantic python and send it after Barrin. It eats two of his peers and chases him up a tree before he summons a drake to kill it.
  • Have You Seen My God?: Serra is not a god, but to the inhabitants of her realm she might as well be, and after it becomes tainted by the Phyrexians she basically flounces out of her own heaven, leaving Radiant in charge.
  • Heel Realization: In her last moments, Radiant realizes that her actions have only hastened the collapse of Serra's Realm and harmed the very people she was meant to protect.
    "I am the mad one!"
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Gherridarigaaz goes out this way.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: One of Urza's new inventions is the falcon engine, machines built to detect Phyrexians by scent, divebomb them, and eviscerate them. Several of these machines fall into Kerrick's hands, and he reprograms them to target Urza instead of Phyrexians. One of these reprogrammed falcon engines gets the drop on Urza when he comes to destroy Kerrick's spawning labs, nearly killing him.
  • It Has Been an Honor: At one point, Karn and Jhoira find themselves surrounded by a horde of Phyrexians. Certain that they're about to die, Karn tells Jhoira that it's been a pleasure to be her friend. Jhoira returns the sentiment, stating that she's glad to die alongside him.
  • Knight Templar: All angels tend to be these, though Radiant takes it to Ax-Crazy levels.
  • Lethal Lava Land: Shiv, homeland of the Viashino and the Shivan Dragons.
  • Light Is Not Good: Radiant was originally good, but was corrupted over centuries by the influence of war minister Gorig.
  • Lizard Folk: The Viashino.
  • Mama Bear: Gherridarigaaz is a mama dragon, so much so that even being threatened with death by Urza doesn't faze her.
  • Mole in Charge: War Minister Gorig is Radiant's righthand man and the guy in charge of rooting out the Phyrexians hidden amongst the people of Serra's Realm. But unbeknownst to Radiant, Gorig is a Phyrexian himself, and he uses his influence to isolate Radiant from the people she's meant to protect and direct her wrath against the innocent.
  • Mordor: After the academy blows up, Kerrick and the surviving Phyrexians build a nation for themselves at the bottom of a chasm within a fast-time rift. Their domain is a bleak and lightless place, where Kerrick's monstrous subjects toil in perpetual darkness to harvest blind cave fish from the pools and mine tiny scraps of iron from the chasm walls, all while Kerrick rules over them from an imposing fortress of iron, obsidian and bone.
  • Morphic Resonance: Gorig is repeatedly described as having eyes resembling wedges of lemon. When he reveals his true form as a Phyrexian demon, his lemon-wedge eyes are the only parts of him that remain unchanged, allowing Barrin to recognize him from Urza's description of the man.
  • One-Winged Angel: Gorig becomes one of these during the final battle in Serra's Realm.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: King tries to give the goblins of Shiv some depth by describing three different kinds. None of them match the standard green-skinned goblins of Magic: The Gathering.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Kerrick. His POV shows him to be an entitled scumbag who's furious that Jhoira wouldn't give him her virginity while they were dating, and he plans to punish her by raping her if he ever gets the chance (thankfully, he doesn't).
  • The Prankster: Teferi is one of these in this book, fittingly so since he is still young and has not yet become a planeswalker in his own right (though even as a planeswalker he still has shades of this).
  • Properly Paranoid: Urza is deeply paranoid about Phyrexians getting into his school, and he enforces many draconian policies—most notably a policy of killing any castaway who washes up on Tolaria—to keep them out. His paranoia is eventually proven right: the one time that a castaway washes up and doesn't get reported, that castaway turns out to be a Phyrexian spy who goes on to cause the deaths of almost everyone at the academy.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Jhoira’s people the Ghitu, which is why Jhoira longs for a strong and mysterious man.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Barrin magically compels Gorig to fly straight downward at breakneck speed, dashing himself against the Weatherlight's deck.
  • Public Execution: Kerrick captures Urza during a battle and decides to make a spectacle out of killing him. He has Urza brought to an arena to be tortured in front of the assembled Phyrexian army and makes a gloating speech that frames Urza as Phyrexia's ultimate pawn and collaborator. Right has he finishes this speech, Urza's falcon-engines break into the time rift and wreak havoc on the assembled Phyrexians, giving Urza time to break free and be rescued by his allies.
  • Punctuation Shaker: Following the academy's destruction, Kerrick drops the e from his name and starts going by K'rrik.
  • Rapid Aging: People who get trapped in fast-time rifts tend to come out of them much older, if they come out at all.
    • One of Jhoira's fellow survivors was a student who fell into a fast-time rift as a twelve-year-old boy and came out of it as an elderly madman several years later.
    • When Urza returns to the island, one of his students commits suicide by jumping into a fast-time ravine. She ages to death before she even hits the ground.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jhoira goes looking for Karn one day and finds Teferi and his friends humiliating the poor golem in the cafeteria. When Jhoira tells them to leave him alone, Teferi claims that he's just putting Karn through his paces as Master Malzra would want, before quipping that he could put Jhoira through her paces back in his room. At this, Jhoira goes off on Teferi, making it clear that she has no interest in a mean-spirited little boy whose only joy in life is making others miserable. By the time she's done, Teferi's smug attitude has completely evaporated, and he's on the verge of tears.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Urza and Karn both remember the events of the original timeline where Kerrick's Phyrexian negators slaughtered everyone at the academy, though Urza finds it difficult to recall exactly what happened because he wasn't the one travelling through time.
  • Secret Identity: Urza runs his academy under the alias of 'Master Malzra', with only Barrin and a few other members of the faculty being privy to his real identity.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong:
    • The end goal of Urza's Time Travel experiments is to prevent the Thran from ever becoming the Phyrexians. It doesn't pan out.
    • On a more immediate scale, Urza sends Karn back in time to prevent a devastating Phyrexian attack on the academy by capturing Kerrick before the spy can leak the academy's plans and weaken their defenses. This succeeds, but the subsequent explosion of the time machine proves almost as devastating.
  • Sharing a Body: When Urza frees himself from Multani's grasp, Multani tries to stop him, only for his spirit to get bound up in Urza's essence as the planeswalker reconstitutes himself. He then spends some time as a passenger in Urza’s head, where he offers snide commentary and the occasional power boost.
  • So Last Season: The crystalline "spiders" that Urza used to wipe out thousands of Phyrexian infiltrators in the last book fail to work this time around.
  • Spikes of Villainy: Kerrick grafts numerous poison-injecting spikes onto himself in the years following the academy's destruction.
  • Summon Magic: Barrin realizes that Kerrick has started training some of his Phyrexians as wizards when they sic a summoned python on him. He counters by summoning a drake which makes short work on the python.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: Subverted. Serra's throne room is filled with enchanted windows that look out on numerous places and people within her realm, allowing her to keep tabs on everyone and everything when she was still around. At present, Radiant can't make use of these windows: she lacks Serra's omniscience, so looking at them just gives her a splitting headache from information overload.
  • Taken for Granite: When the time machine explodes, Urza turns the nearest fifteen people to stone so he can grab them and planeswalk out of there without killing them. Several of them get cracked during the transit and die when he turns them back, but most of them survive. Later, Urza turns the dragon Rhammidarigaaz to stone while the dragon is lunging at him, showing the dragon's Viashino allies that he is not to be trifled with. He turns Rhammidarigaaz back to flesh and blood once the point has been made.
  • Taking the Bullet: Gherridarigaaz sacrifices herself to shield Urza from a powerful spell, getting vaporized in the process.
  • Technicolor Fire: Radiant's angels carry magical torches that burn bright blue.
  • Tele-Frag: Urza kills Kerrick by planeswalking into the Phyrexian's body, blasting him apart in a shower of oily blood and gore.
  • Time Is Dangerous: Only silver can travel through time unharmed, and even silver has difficulty going further back than two days. Later in the story, many Tolarian students are killed by time rifts when the time machine explodes.
  • Time Machine Urza builds one and much of the Tolarian story focuses on the consequences thereof.
  • Time Travel: The focus of Urza's latest obsessions in this book.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Urza starts the novel as an aloof, paranoid, and callous man convinced that he knows best and that any sacrifice made in the name of protecting Dominaria from the Phyrexians is warranted. This is best shown in his reaction to the academy's destruction: he only manages to save fifteen of the hundreds of people living at the academy, himself included, but because one of those people is Barrin and because the destruction of his inventions means they'll be kept out of Phyrexian hands, Urza views this as a good and equitable trade. The events of the book force Urza to acknowledge the human cost of his actions, learn some humility, and become a better person. By the end of it, Urza has gone from keeping Karn at arm's length and treating him like a disposable tool to treating him with affection, he's reading his late wife's account of the Brothers' War — which he had dismissed as crock in the previous novel — with clear wistfulness, and he deigns to join the students in a dance, something he never would have done back when he was still the unapproachable Master Malzra.
  • Vision Quest: According to Jhoira, the Ghitu undertake these before becoming adults in the eyes of the tribe. She undertakes one during her ten-year coma, giving her the insight needed to design and build a machine which can safely bring Teferi out of his slow-time prison.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It is never explained what happened to Serra, so readers less familiar with Magic’s many storylines will run into this trope. What happens is this: after fleeing her realm, she eventually winds up in Ulgrotha, a story chronicled in the unpopular set Homelands. She is eventually killed by another planeswalker, having lost the will to live after her husband Feroz's death.
  • Yawgmoth’s Time Travel Exemption Act: Urza’s attempts to prevent the rise of Phyrexia do not go well.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: After the time machine explodes, Tolaria is home to many slow and fast time rifts. One in particular houses Kerrich, who takes advantage of the time difference to build a Phyrexian army for himself.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: On the flipside, Teferi gets trapped in a field of such slow-moving time that he appears motionless from an outside observer's perspective, and it takes years for him to show even the slightest hint of movement or change. When he's finally released from the field twenty-five years later, only three seconds have passed from his perspective.
  • Yellow Eyes of Sneakiness: Radiant's minister Gorig has eyes "as slim and yellow as wedges of lemon", and he is quickly established as a manipulative and untrustworthy figure.
  • Your Soul Is Mine!: The torches carried by Radiant's angels suck up the souls of anyone killed in their vicinity, storing them so they can be transferred to a Phyrexian soul-battery. Living people can lose their souls from coming into direct contact with a torch's flame, killing them in the process.
  • Zerg Rush: When Urza falls into the Phyrexian time rift, the Phyrexians capture him by sending wave after wave of monsters at him until he's burned through all his spells and is too weak to fight back anymore.