Brandon Sanderson is known for his fantastical, intricate magic systems across the whole interconnected worlds of his Cosmere novels. But now, he’s turning to another of his passions to weave a new story of magic: literally, because he’s gotten his hands on the worlds of the legendary card game Magic: The Gathering.
io9 is proud to exclusively reveal the first look at Brandon Sanderson’s latest novella, Magic: Children of the Nameless. Written in collaboration with the Magic’s story team at Wizards of the Coast, Children of the Nameless invites readers to meet a young girl named Tacenda who is capable of great magic, until tragedy strikes at the worst possible time. But during that tragedy, Tacenda crosses paths with a mysterious new Planeswalker named Davriel, designed by Sanderson himself. Here’s a quick synopsis to whet your appetite:
Since the day she was born, Tacenda has been both blessed and cursed. Blessed by a powerful protection spell of unknown origin, she has warded her family and friends against any number of horrors over her 15 years. Cursed because the horrors which visit her small Kessig village are both numerous and frequent. Then, one night, for no reason she can fathom, her sacred song of protection fails. Seeking revenge on the man she believes responsible for the failure and the consequent destruction of everything she loves, she breaks into the manor of the local lord, a known consorter with demons. There she discovers the beginnings of an even greater mystery… starting with the fact the Lord of the Manor is anything but local…
io9 recently spoke to Sanderson over email about Children of the Nameless and his lifelong love of Magic—check it out below, as well as an exclusive excerpt from the novella!
io9: Tell us a little bit about how you got involved with this project.
Brandon Sanderson: I’ve long had a good relationship with the folks over at Wizards—because they know I’m a fan, and many people on staff there are familiar with my books. I’ve toured the offices a few times, and they’ve sent me things like cards to give out to fans when they play Magic with me at conventions. So I wasn’t terribly surprised when Nic Kelman finally approached me about maybe writing a story in one of their worlds. And that’s really all there is to it—they wrote me and asked. Being quite the fan of the game, and its settings, I was excited from the get-go.
You’ve famously long been a fan of Magic as a game—what’s it been like collaborating with the story team as you developed Children of the Nameless?
Sanderson: It was great. I don’t get to do a lot of collaboration on my own—most of what I do is quite solitary, sitting in my basement and working on books. In this case, I got plenty of opportunities to call in to the team, and I felt like I was really a part of the group. It gave me a little glimpse of a different world of storytelling, one more like the writer’s room on a television show might work. A place where you’ve always got someone to bounce ideas off of, and where cool things are constantly happening in the setting that you can play off of with your own stories.
The novella introduces Davriel to the cast of Magic’s Planeswalker heroes. What can you tell us about them? What was the design process like for creating an important new figure in Magic’s lore like that?
Sanderson: My editor—Nic—and I decided early on that the way to approach a Brandon Sanderson story in the Magic Multiverse was to give me a lot of freedom. Rather than taking an established character and telling the next chapter in their story, I wanted to section off my little piece of a Magic setting and build my own story, characters, and lore—something that built off what they’d done, and which fit with the rest of their stories, but which gave me a great deal of narrative liberty. So the first step in this process was me sending them my book guide for the story—this is a kind of outline I build for all of my stories, explaining character, theme, setting, and plot. It’s less an outline in the “Heading A, subheading B” style and more like a Hollywood treatment—me trying to capture not just the story itself, but the themes and characters.
When my editor got this document, he got very excited and said that the creative team really liked the idea of me designing a Planeswalker, particularly since they had a “blank slate” character in the files that was going to be relevant in later stories, but who right now didn’t have any lore or backstory, other than a few broad concepts. So my outline, and their need, wove together nicely—I took over design for this character, doing phone calls to explain who he was, what his backstory was, and brainstorm with the team about how he should look in artwork.
The character himself is someone I’ve had brewing in my mind for years, and who had been inspired by some Magic lore I’d read in the past, so it was a perfect fit. As for who he is...well, I’d rather leave that for the story to explain. But I have to say, it was a true pleasure to be able to do this. A few years back, Wizards had some celebrity game designers each design a card for the set (Notch, from Minecraft fame, did a mining-themed card.) This was kind of the same thing for me—but as a character and story creator, rather than a game designer. It was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The first details about your story also introduce us to a mysterious new character named Tacenda. What can you tell us about her, and her connections to Davriel’s story?
Sanderson: I knew that I didn’t want the story to just be about Davriel. Actually, my concepting for the story (before I even knew I’d be able to do it as a Magic story) involved the interplay between these two characters. Characters who have very different views on the world, but who end up aligned in their goals for the course of the story. I also knew that a story about a powerful Planeswalker would risk falling flat if there weren’t also a strong human element and a grounding in emotion.
Tacenda is a character with more stake in the story. She’s a young woman from Innistrad, a very dangerous and sometimes terrible land. In her childhood, she found she had power to protect those around her—but as the story starts, those powers fail her. The story circles around this idea of what it means to have power, and what does it do to you when you’re too weak despite that power. Her lens is the one through which we see most of the story, as to her, the stakes are very personal.
Your own fantasy work is known for its intricate worldbuilding around magic systems. What was it like playing about with Magic’s own systems for your story? Was there anything you were particularly intrigued with getting to tweak at yourself beyond just introducing a new Planeswalker?
Sanderson: I am always eager to get my hands on a new magic system, then see how I can bend it, play with it, and approach it from unexpected directions. I love the Magic card game, but one of the questions I often ask myself is this: How would these magic spells work in a real-world setting? By necessity, the game’s spells are all about combat. I wanted to ask myself how this magic might instead be used in ways that could never actually be expressed in game mechanics. Things a narrative could do and a game never could.
What do you hope Magic fans who might be unfamiliar with your work take from your vision of Magic lore in this novella?
Sanderson: All I want is for them to enjoy the story. This project is, in part, me wanting to do something for the game that has meant so much to me over the years. A kind of anniversary gift to the fans, and to the Magic team. I hope that those who love the game will read this, and have a blast doing so. That is, really, my only aspiration for any story I write.
Do you know if Davriel will make his way into a card set in the future? If so, as a player, what would your dream version of that card be like? Other than very powerful of course, haha!
Sanderson: Well, you’re right on the power comment. Since my favorite way to play Magic is with a powered/Vintage cube, I’d hope to someday see a Davriel card that I can fit into that... :) However, I do like that Wizards has been careful with its Planeswalker designs, trying hard to flavor them along a theme, as opposed to just making them generically powerful. A lot of their Planeswalker designs do a good job of evoking who the character is, simply through use of mechanics. So a Davriel who is able to steal other people’s cards and use them in unexpected ways would be something awesome to see.
That said, I also know that any given card is designed to show only one side of a Planeswalker—as many of them have a lot of different sides that can be explored. So I guess it would depend on what side of Davriel the card decides to approach.
The Whisperers arrived just before dusk, and Tacenda’s song was not enough to stop them.
She screamed the refrain of the Warding Song, sliding her hands across the strings of her viol—a gift from her parents at her fourteenth birthday.
Her parents were both gone now, killed ten days earlier by the strange creatures that now assaulted the village. Tacenda had barely recovered from that grief when they’d taken Willia too. Now, they’d come for the entire village.
Since the sun had not yet set, she couldn’t see them, but she could hear their quiet overlapping voices as they flowed around her seat. They spoke in raspy tones—soft, the words indistinguishable—like an underchant to her song.
She redoubled her efforts, plucking her viol with raw fingers, sitting in her usual spot at the center of the village, by the gurgling cistern. The song should have been enough. For two years, it had stopped every terror and horror. The Whisperers, however, sounded indifferent as they flowed around Tacenda. And soon, human screams of terror rose as a horrible chorus around her.
Tacenda tried to sing louder, but her voice was growing hoarse. She coughed at her next breath. She gasped, trembling, struggling to—Something cold brushed her. The pain in her fingers grew numb, and she gasped, leaping back, clutching her viol to her breast. All was black around her, but she could hear the thing nearby, a thousand whispers overlapping, like riffling pages, each as hush as a dying breath.
Then it moved off, ignoring her. The rest of the villagers were not so lucky. They had locked themselves in their homes—where now they shouted, prayed, and pled...until one by one, they started to go silent.
“Tacenda!” a voice shouted nearby. “Tacenda! Help!”
“Mirian?” Tacenda’s voice came out as a ragged croak. Which direction had that sound come from? Tacenda spun in the darkness, kicking over her stool with a clatter.
There! Tacenda carefully ran her foot along the side of the cistern to feel its carved stones and orient herself, then struck out into the darkness. She knew this area well, and it had been years since she’d stumbled when crossing the village square. But still, she could not avoid that spike of fear she felt in stepping forward. Out, into that darkness that still terrified her.
This time, would she walk into the void, and never return? Would she continue to stumble in a vast, unknowable blackness, lost to all natural feeling and touch?
Instead, she reached the wall of a home, right where she’d anticipated. She felt with raw fingers, touching the windowsill, feeling Mirian’s potted herbs in a row, one of which—in her haste—she accidentally knocked off. It shattered on the cobbles.
“Mirian!” Tacenda yelled, feeling her way across the wall. Other screams still sounded in the village—some people crying for help, others shouting in a panic. Together the sounds were a tempest, but each seemed so alone.
“Mirian?” Tacenda said. “Why is your door open? Mirian!”
Tacenda felt her way into the small home, then stumbled over a body. Tears wetting her cheeks, Tacenda knelt, still holding her viol in one hand. With the other, she felt at the lace skirt—embroidered by Mirian’s own hand, during the evenings when she sometimes stayed up to keep Tacenda company. She moved her hand to the woman’s face.
Mirian had brought Tacenda tea not an hour ago. And now...her skin had already gone cold somehow, her body rigid.
Tacenda dropped her viol and pushed away, slamming back against the wall, knocking something over. The fallen item cracked as it hit the ground, an almost musical sound.
Outside, the last screams were giving out.
“Take me!” Tacenda shouted, feeling her way around the door. She scraped her arm on a sharp corner, tearing her skirt, blooding her forearm. “Take me, like you did my family!” She stumbled out into the main square again, and as more of the shouting and panic trailed off, she picked out a quieter voice. A child’s voice.
“Ahren?” She shouted. “Is that you?”
No. Bog, hear my prayer. Please...
“Ahren!” Tacenda followed the small, panicked screaming to another building. The door was locked, but that didn’t seem to stop the Whisperers. They were spirits or geists of some sort.
Tacenda felt her way to the window, where she heard a small hand pounding on the glass. “Ahren...” Tacenda said, resting her own palm against the glass. A coldness brushed past her.
“Tacenda!” the little boy screamed, voice muffled. “Please! It’s coming!”
She drew in breath, and tried—through her sobs—to force out a song. But the Warding Song wasn’t working. Maybe...maybe something else?
“Simple...simple days of warming sun...” she began, trying her old song. The joyful one she’d sung to her sister, and the people of the village, when she’d been a child. “And light that calms and will not run...”
She found the words dying on her lips. How could she sing about a warm sun she could no longer see? How could she try to calm, to bring joy, when people were dying all around her?
That song...she no longer remembered that song.
Ahren’s crying stopped as a muted thump sounded inside the building. Outside, the final screams died off. And the village grew silent.
Tacenda shrank back from the window, and then behind her, she heard footsteps.
Footsteps. The Whisperers made no such sound.
She spun toward the footsteps, and heard the rustling cloth of someone nearby, watching her.
“I hear you!” Tacenda screamed at the unseen figure. “Man of the Manor! I hear your footsteps!”
She heard breathing. The sounds, even, of the Whisperers faded away. But whoever was there, watching, remained still.
“Take me!” Tacenda screamed at the second darkness. “Be done with it!”
The footsteps, instead, retreated. A cold, lonely breeze blew through the village. Tacenda felt the last rays of sunlight give out, the air chilling. As night fell, Tacenda’s vision returned. She blinked as the blackness retreated to mere shadows, the sky still faintly warm from the sun’s recent passing. Like the embers that clung—briefly—to a wick after the fire went out.
Tacenda found herself standing near the cistern, her face a mess of tears and tangled brown hair. Her precious viol lay, wood finish scratched, just inside the door to Mirian’s house.
The village was silent. Empty save for Tacenda and corpses.
If you’re excited to read more of Children of the Nameless, then excellent news: the entire novella will be available to download for free! For more details, head on over the official Magic: The Gathering story website to download the complete story.
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