Nicol Bolas stretched his wings, and the sounds he heard were unpleasant. Ligaments creaked, and joints popped. The membranes between his wing bones made dry sounds of friction as they stretched. For decades he had felt his age catching up to him; his age was an imposing enough figure that he felt deeply invested in eluding the arithmetic. But at least he could stretch. The chamber, deep under the Necropolis at Kederekt, was finally complete. The last of the dead soil had been scraped out from around his bulk, and the tomb had become a proper lair.
The impact of the damnable Mending had left him broken. His omnipotence was mutilated, and his mind felt like a sieve. He was truly an elderly dragon. He had fled Dominaria, hoping the Mending wouldn't reach him -- but its effects had caught up to him indeed, like thunder catches up after a crack of lightning. He had felt his power drain. He had felt the millennia of knowledge seep away. He had felt the tattered edges of his own wings for the first time.
"But if nothing else, am I not a survivor?"
"What's that, Master?" came the response, unexpectedly.
So what if he said it aloud? "Am I not a survivor?" Bolas snarled.
His second-in-command, the unholy creature Malfegor, only stared at him. Half demon and half dragon, Malfegor had come into being centuries before under circumstances too horrible for many to contemplate. His rage at being trapped on festering Grixis was amusing -- and useful as a fulcrum for Bolas's control over him. Bolas's web of power and influence spanned worlds and eons, a perfect prize to dangle before a demon who had once terrorized all of Alara.
"Twenty thousand years!" Bolas roared. "Never mind. Bring in the . . . visitors."
Malfegor left the chamber. Bolas didn't like the way his henchman's tail twitched as he walked away. It wasn't right for a dragon to carry himself that way. His secondin- command was an abomination. But at least he was a useful one.
When Malfegor returned, he brought with him two human beings, males dressed in robes, adults judging by their size.
One human stepped forward. It was shaking. It was probably terrified.
"Well? What's so important?" asked Bolas.
"Master, I -- I and m -- my colleagues have read the signs," said the lead human.
"Master, I don't know how to say this --"
"Promptly, if you value your life."
"It's the shards, Master. The other four worlds, and Grixis too. They're . . . converging."
That was interesting. Had one of the little rodents finally figured it out?
"Yes. I'm afraid . . . I'm afraid they're going to . . . intersect. Collide. And soon."
Bolas's lips pulled away from his teeth. The amusement he felt was genuine. "How soon?"
The two humans looked at each other. They didn't seem to know what to make of his expression. "Months?" said the first. "Yes. Less than a year, we think."
Bolas stretched his wings out again. He still heard the poppings of age, but they felt better. Maybe in a little while, he could fly free of the blasted bunker and flex his true muscle once more. He would have to meet with his agents on the other four worlds. Planeswalking took a lot of effort for him, but he had to make sure everything would come out exactly right.
"Master?" ventured the human. "This is . . . what you wanted?"
"I'm very proud of you, human," said Bolas. "This is an excellent leap for your little mind."
"Thank you, Master! But won't that --"
"I feel I need to reward you."
Both the humans fell prostrate.
"I will tell you now that you have done well to discover the goal of all our efforts here on your world of Grixis. You've all worked long and hard, with complex magics and lengthy excavations. And now you are beginning to see the fruits of all your labors."
The speaking human couldn't help itself. It raised its head and said, "Master, I hate to interrupt --"
"Then don't!" bellowed Bolas.
The humans cowered.
"This project, and the preparations surrounding it, have taken decades to complete. The effort has been intricate and many layered. And now you're starting to see it all come together. The devastation it will wreak is, no doubt, the source of your concern. Even your decaying world will suffer, and at this you must object. I admire your courage in coming to my inner chamber to confirm that this cataclysm is indeed the end toward which you all have labored. And for that, your reward! You, stand up."
The speaker looked up, and stood on wobbly legs. It blinked rapidly and held the clasp of its robe in its hands.
Bolas leaned down and put his claw over the human's head, resting his palm there gently, careful not to break the human's neck.
Malfegor spoke up. "Master, don't tax yourself," he said.
Bolas ignored him. It took some concentration, but he summoned up the old magics. Tidal forces of mana washed over his mind. Bolas willed them into the form of a spell, a dark spear of magic that pierced the human's little skull and disappeared, scouring away at its sanity from the inside. The human screamed under Bolas's palm, a ragged, repeated sound bereft of logic or order. Then the human fell silent and still. Bolas completed the spell and lifted his claw.
The human's expression was limp. It stared at nothing, and its head lolled slightly to the side.
"There you are, my minion," said Bolas, breathing heavily. "There is your reward."
The other human regarded its colleague with wide eyes. It stood and gathered the man in its arms. A combination of drool and blood ran down the side of the man's jaw, its thinking mind utterly destroyed.
"You there," said Bolas to the other human, the one who still possessed its faculties. "You can go now, and take that one with you. Remember its reward, always. Should any of the rest of you show such excellence in powers of deduction, you shall receive the same."
The human bowed stiffly and hurriedly ushered the other man out on his shoulder.
Bolas turned to his second-in-command, the demonic dragon-creature. "That's enough. If you trouble me with the concerns of the mortals again, Malfegor, I will kill you. After your body has died, I will banish your soul to some wretched, zombified husk in the bowels of Grixis, where you will toil away in the service of the whims of a third-rate human necromancer. Now, will that be all?"
Bolas was alone again.
Once the five worlds of Alara collided, he would have his vitality back. The Multiverse owed him that much -- and it had seen fit to provide him with the five little planes, ripe for the picking. He'd crash their worlds into one another and lick the sap from the wounds. And then, finally, he'd be ready to take his revenge.
Excerpted from Alara Unbroken by Doug Beyer. Copyright (C) 2009 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.