“Look, Daddy! A shooting star! Make a wish!” Abernathy pointed at the glowing ball as it made its way past the trees and disappeared somewhere into the forest.
Alexander knew that as each day passed it would become more and more difficult to shield his daughter from the horrors gripping Gavony. This wasn't the first time he'd seen it, but now it was happening with far greater frequency.
“Another one, Daddy! Two shooting stars in one night!”
Pragmatism told Alexander to tell his darling Abernathy that those "shooting stars" were the remnants of Avacyn's once-proud Alabaster Flight, wings immolated and their aflame holy bodies cascading to the ground from the skies they once protected.
His fatherly instincts would not allow it.
“Of course, pumpkin. Aren't you the luckiest little girl in all the city?” Alexander feigned a smile. “What did you wish for, or aren't you allowed to tell me?”
Abernathy yawned and stretched while sleep began to take hold of her. “You know what I wished for, Daddy,” as her eyes closed. “For Mommy to come home real…real soon…”
Her voice trailed off while her father stroked his hand across her brow, shifting her auburn hair away from her face. She looked every bit as peaceful as a child could. Tears filled Alexander's eyes. He knew this wouldn't last. The thin lines of protection that had been keeping the madness at bay were being crushed under the weight of whatever evil had been slowly enveloping Innistrad. Every moment with her could be their last.
The angels could not save them.
The cathars and holy warriors could not save them.
Their savior could not save them.
He wiped a tear from his cheek and strengthened his resolve to keep Abby safe. For a moment he fixated on the chair next to her bed where Madeline would sit and rock their baby to bed when her crying became too much. It was now the home of Abby's teddy bear, Sir Ren, who always had to be by his daughter's side.
Pain throbbed in Alexander's temples. Each time he thought of Madeline brought more and more anguish that was sure to unmake him. Strength for Abernathy. That was paramount.
Still, though, he looked out the window where the fallen bodies of two angels had just illuminated the skies and he wondered to himself if she was out there, somewhere…and he wished she would come home.
“Wolves in sheep's clothing!” The priest's shrill voice echoed through the streets and fell on the ears of each Gavony citizen in the market that day. The usually packed streets were sparse and each person seemed hurried and moved with purpose. Being outdoors proved to be dangerous, although many had begun to experience the effects of cabin fever and needed momentary escapes lest they succumb to it.
Alexander squeezed Abernathy's hand a little tighter as they navigated through several shops to secure the bare necessities to get them through the next few weeks. Milk, bread, cheese, and whatever other small things they could carry were of the utmost importance.
“Daddy? What is that man yelling?” Abby asked of her father. Alexander tried to get out of earshot of the maddened clergyman, but his voice rained down upon the masses like hot, bubbling pitch.
“We can all feel it! It seeps into our skin and peels away at the faith we have all cultivated…but no! Not I! I, alone, stand as your beacon of purity and hope! Avacyn may have forsaken you all, but my will to banish the evil in Innistrad is the strongest it has ever been! I will never leave you, my children. Woe unto the sheep that would separate themselves from our flock! Woe unto the denizens of Gavony who would turn their backs on the Church! The filthy, unclean beasts we've all seen, and my children you have seen them, they have turned to the darkness!
"Filthy, tentacled monstrosities dripping with sin and disgust! Oh, my brothers and sisters, we've all seen them! They haunt our homes at night and whisper foul nothings into your ears! They are harbingers of a greater threat! But I alone, my children! I will strike down those wolves who would try to taint my flock!”
For a moment Alexander halted when the priest spoke of the abominations. Memories of a night flooded back into his mind. Madeline's eyes, black as coal; her dark hair white as snow. Her fair skin covered with abscesses and boils. Yellow teeth. Sunken cheeks. Her soft laugh a malicious cackle. There were moments she'd remember who she was and would weep tears of blood, but almost as quickly as she recalled herself, she would change again. Those same tears would be used to write nonsensical words on their walls. “Emrakul” over and over and over and over and…
"There, my sheep, stands a wolf among you!”
The growing crowd turned their heads to look where the priest pointed.
Alexander looked around, only to find the priest's crooked, shaking index finger pointing directly at him.
“This man…this vessel for putrescence! How many among you know what happened to this man's wife? How many among you know that we came to him to expel whatever demons were possessing her? She was one of the first to be tainted! And what did he do, my children? Why, he locked her up in their barn and hid her away! But she escaped! We could have been rid of a monstrosity and this man, this heathen, saved her!”
Looks from the crowd grew more sinister. Abernathy hugged her father's leg, squishing Sir Ren between them. The priest stepped closer.
“Their spawn, brothers and sisters! This child!”
Alexander's grip on his daughter tightened. He drew her in closer.
“Do not be fooled by the little one! She was begotten from a heathen and a monster! She is every bit the sickening creation that the tentacle beasts are! There is judgment upon them! Behold, my flock! Behold!”
Without a word Alexander dropped their provisions and hoisted his daughter into his arms. He spun away from the priest and broke through the lines of citizens behind him. Many were too afraid to utter a single word. Others cursed and spat at them. Alexander snorted. Safety now. He would go out again in the night to reclaim their provisions, avoiding the townsfolk at all costs…
“Watch as they run, my children! Watch as he hides that little demon away just like he did his wife!”
“Daddy, no!" Abernathy shrieked at the top of her lungs.
In his haste Alexander jarred his daughter, who dropped Sir Ren to the cobblestone below. Alex bit his lip as he locked eyes on the teddy bear, but before he could recover his Abby's most precious possession, a portly mason reached for it.
“Awww, is this ya bear, love?” The mason spat. “Ain't that too bad? I'm guessin' it'd be a shame if someone tossed the little devil's bear in the well, huh?”
“We're not monsters!” Alexander pleaded. The well was only a few feet away. “It's my baby's favorite…"
Before Alexander could finish, the mason dropped Sir Ren into the blackness of the well. The bear's soft body barely made a splash.
The mob laughed, the mason bellowing most heartily of all.
Abernathy bawled. Her cheeks became soaked with tears as Alexander hurried her home.
Home. It was safe there, he hoped.
From a distance, a head with hundreds of eyes and a dozen gaping maws let out a cry of anguish.
I'll be back soon, Alexander thought to himself. Soon. Abby will still be asleep. She won't even know I was gone. I'll make her favorite breakfast in the morning. Toasted bread and marmalade. She won't even know I was gone.
Alexander made his way into his daughter's room to catch a quick glimpse of his sleeping darling. The moon illuminated her angel face and, if only for a second, her father felt a glimmer of hope that things would be okay. Gingerly he closed the door behind him as not to wake her.
She won't even know I was gone.
Alexander broke into a sprint away from their house and down the path that led to town. Returning was dangerous, but their survival -- no, her survival -- was all that mattered. The town was sure to be empty. He would sneak into the bakery and only take what he needed. He felt in his pocket as he ran. Silver. Yes, he would leave money on the counter as well. It wouldn't be stealing if he paid for the goods.
As he closed in on the outskirts of town a loud rattling noise gave him pause. A dull glow came from a building close to the bakery. Voices, too. Alexander crept closer. Three, no, four drunken men were gathered outside the inn. One dragged a thick iron chain behind him. Two of them had scythes. The fourth grasped a pitchfork.
“The old man was right!" said the one with the pitchfork. "That bastard and his daughter need to be taken care of!”
The others shouted their agreement. The rabble-rouser raised his pitchfork.
“Cathars damn sure aren't gonna do it! What we need is some good old-fashioned justice, and we're the guys that are gonna handle it. We can make Gavony safe! Everyone else is just too scared…”
Fear seized Alexander. They were talking about him…him and Abby! But a plan replaced the panic. The men were drunk. They'd be slow. He could get home, escape into the forest with Abernathy, and hole up for a day until it was safe to return. Maybe the men would think the home was abandoned, or that he and his daughter had been victims of the latest disappearance.
Seeking safety…in the forest? Was this how far he had fallen?
The chain clanked off the street while its bearer swayed back and forth. Madeline. Maddy. My love. Chained. Chained in the barn. Skin falling off. Teeth dropping from her skull. Those eyes. Those black, soulless eyes. Pools of ink. Her wicked, wicked cackle. Iron chafing her flesh. Why had Avacyn forsaken her…forsaken them? He had left her to check on Abby, returned only to see the barn empty, with blood and viscera everywhere, and what he…thought looked like tentacles slithering out of the opening in the loft above them.
Madeline. Chained. Gone.
Two of the men banged the handles of their scythes together, breaking Alexander's reverie. He tensed to run, but suddenly he heard a rustling behind him. Were there five men? Was he spotted? A foul smell filled his nose, like that of rotting meat.
Before he could look, a blur of black and gray exploded past him with unnatural speed.
Alexander's eyes could not keep up with whatever had sped away from him, but his ears could. The mob's cheers were replaced by howls of pain and screams like he had never head. An arm still clutching the iron chain sailed past his head. Alexander ducked, and his eyes found the source at last: an abomination, tentacled.
The few windows and doors open were closed on the mob's cries for help. Locks were turned. Lanterns were snuffed.
In heartbeats it was over. Where a mob had stood, a hulking abomination stood over their remains.
All its eyes were fixed on Alexander.
Whatever the mob might have done to him and his daughter, the...thing promised a worse fate. He would run.
Had to run.
But his legs wouldn't move him away.
A tentacle wrapped around his waist. It pulled him closer to the abomination. Alexander dug his hands in the soft earth beneath him. It did nothing to slow his journey. He opened his mouth to scream, but another tentacle covered his mouth. The abomination dragged him to within inches, raised him until dozens of eyes stared into his own.
Alexander closed his eyes. If he could not have last words, he would have last thoughts. Run, Abby, run…
The abomination gurgled.
His eyes shot open. Madeline?
Now a familiar voice spoke inside his head. “Alex…my love, it's me…”
Not his own. He wasn't imagining it.
Was it her?
The tentacle over Alexander's mouth slipped away.
As if answering to the name, the abomination loosened its grip on Alexander. With a lurch he slipped free of the tentacle. He twisted his right ankle as he landed. Pain shot through his leg, but he lunged away. It was his only chance…
“Abby! Baby!” He struggled to his feet, limped away from the abomination. He chanced a look back. It remained in place, only one tentacle reaching out for him. Hurry. Save Abby.
The voice in his head spoke once more.
“Alex…together…Abby….together with me…” Madeline's voice sounded just as it had before her transformation in his mind.
No. It isn't her.
Alexander surged forward, leaving the abomination behind. He would get home, and he and Abby would get far, far away from Gavony.
Alexander burst into his house with a shout.
“Abby! Abby, wake up! We have to leave now!” He hobbled up the stairs to her room, each step sending jolts of pain through his leg. His ankle mattered less than his daughter. He would splint it when they were safe.
At last he reached the door to Abernathy's room. He swung it open, only to see her bed empty and covered in blood and what looked like skin.
No! He was too late? How? Then he heard it.
In the far left corner of the room sat a writhing mess of twitching tentacles and claws. It was small…much smaller than the one he saw earlier. About the size of…
Alexander fell to his knees, sobbing. The small clawed thing inched closer to him, seemingly more terrified of him than he was of it.
“Abby…no…please, not my Abby…please, not my baby…” That was all Alexander got out before the thing was right next to him. It wrapped its many tentacles around him. It felt like…a hug?
Abernathy's voice echoed in his brain.
“It's all right, Daddy…better here…safe…mommy came home while you…together again, Daddy…Daddy…”
Alexander's shock wore away. He looked upon the corrupted form of Abernathy. His daughter.
Alexander wiped his mouth with a sleeve. “Yes, Abby? What is it?”
“My wish…came true…Daddy. Mommy…is back.”
The wood floor buckled under Alexander as the Madeline abomination entered the room. He hadn't even heard her enter the house. Its tentacles wrapped around Alex along with the other, smaller set.
“Relax...Alexander...I came home.”
Alex closed his eyes. He felt as if he was submerged in water. He could not hear. He could not speak. He could not smell. He could not feel. But he could see. Before him was an infinite vastness, black yet shining as brightly as the moon of Innistrad. Billions of voices spoke to him, with only one word distinguishable.
In that moment Alexander saw the void. He saw Emrakul…and he wanted to be there.
His skin burned and his body shook. Soon he would be like Madeline. Like Abby. They would finally be a family again.
“When Daddy is ready, Abernathy,” Madeline told her daughter, “when Daddy is all better…we'll get your teddy bear back…”
The two masses huddled around Alexander, tentacles quivering with joy.
Sometimes, wishes do come true.
A special thanks to Reddit poster JangSaverem for their story on a thread about Grapple with the Past, and a huge thank you to SCG Editor Danny West for allowing me the opportunity to explore this flavorful and powerful Magic: The Gathering card. I hope you all enjoy!