The Far Side of the Self: Huatli Explores Ixalan

Michelle Rapp Magic Story

In our previous Magic Story recap, we took a look at how Ixalan’s themes of discovery and exploration helped develop Vraska from a young, unjustly imprisoned convict to a confident pirate captain. This week, we’ll examine at how these same themes propel Ixalan’s native Planeswalker, Huatli, into a place of introspection and character growth. Huatli’s search for the Immortal Sun and Orazca causes her to make allies and enemies she’s never expected and challenge her own base assumptions.

When we first meet Huatli, she is in many ways the embodiment of the Sun Empire. She is strong, secure, eloquent, and deeply connected to the dinosaurs that inhabit the surrounding jungles, calling them to her side at will. From a young age, she has been marked as the most promising of her class, the one most likely to win the title of Warrior Poet. But while her curiosity has always lurked beneath the surface, she made the decision to bury it away so she could pursue duty, glory and honor for her people.

“The priest was adamant. ‘If you live a warrior’s life for the good of the empire, you will see clearly. You must be the single voice shouting from the mountaintop. The voice of the empire, the voice of all that matters.’

Huatli bit her lip. She wasn’t sure if being a voice on a mountaintop was what she wanted. She thought of the priest and the martial instructor, of her auntie and uncle and Inti. She thought of all the people in the empire, and how one day they would listen to the truths she would tell.

The empire is what matters, she asserted to herself. Not whatever exists beyond the sun.”

Huatli grows into a young woman who is the pride of the Sun Empire, a role model and a hero to others. Extraordinarily skilled as a fighter and as an orator, she has spent years fighting off the vampire invaders of the Legion of Dusk and ousting Brazen Coalition pirates. Her initial color identity of Red and White underlines her desire to fight zealously for the order of the civilized Sun Empire, doing whatever it takes in order to keep her people defended and victorious.

After her exploits and efforts, she fully expects to be bestowed with the title of Warrior Poet. The coveted title would make her the official archivist of the Sun Empire, recording the exploits and stories of her people in verse for generations to come.  However, she becomes somewhat disillusioned when the Emperor does not grant her the title after a major victory. He tells her that he anticipates invasions by both the vampires and pirates, and keeps her near the capitol to defend it.

During a fight against a strange bull-headed man, Huatli loses her advantage and topples to the sand with the awareness that she is about to die. Then her spark ignites. She sees a vision of a golden city, swirling with an unknown magic, but is pulled back to Ixalan through the Blind Eternities. Angrath, the minotaur and another Planeswalker, is astounded by this and spares her life. As she retreats and recovers, she realizes that there’s something out there she’s never encountered before.

“Everything Huatli thought was true about the world around her felt like it was coming apart.

Not only had she been attacked by the strangest beast she’d ever seen, but her body had dissolved, and for one moment, her consciousness peeked into an open window only to be pulled back to her own world.

It was like trying to stand on a log in the river. Like she was a child spinning in circles and falling to the ground. The ground had left her feet, and Huatli’s belief in what was real was upended.” (“A Question of Confidence”, R&D Narrative Team)

Huatli is shaken and unsure what she experienced, but interprets the vision the best way she can to her Emperor. He immediately interprets the city she saw as Orazca, the Golden City that houses the Immortal Sun. He tells her that she will be given the title of Warrior Poet if she is able to locate Orazca, sending her on an expedition to discover it. Reluctantly, Huatli accepts her new role as an explorer.

Huatli takes this unexpected role in stride, setting off to find a merfolk who can guide her to the Golden City. Stumbling upon a shipwreck, she finds an ancient merfolk lying on the beach. Huatli tries to convince the merfolk, Tishana, to lead her to Orazca, telling her she has no need to claim the artifact as her own. Tishana tells Huatli of her own troubles; Kumena, another merfolk, has gone to Orazca to claim the Immortal Sun for himself. Tishana intends to stop him, and accepts Huatli’s offer of traveling together. For the first time, a merfolk and a member of the Sun Empire are working together, and Huatli is excited to be accomplishing something never done before by her people. However, she feels that their alliance is uneasy.

When Tishana leaves her after a scuffle with pirates, Angrath appears. The minotaur tries to make a bargain with her at first, with information that she doesn’t realize she wants to know.

“Huatli’s heart was racing. She was more terrified than she ever had been. What was this killer playing at?

‘You’re like me,’ he said.

‘I’ll never be like you!’ Huatli yelled defiantly, dramatically.

‘No, idiot, not like that,’ Angrath replied, his eyes stern with impatience. ‘I will not harm you, fellow Planeswalker.’ Angrath stood, looking down at her.

Huatli was about to demand answers, but Angrath spoke calmly and resolutely. ‘Whatever prevents us from leaving this plane is locked in that city. We can help each other escape to different worlds if we find it.’

A small glimmer of wonder burst through Huatli’s confusion.” (“The Race, Part Two”, R&D Narrative Team)

Left with few other options, Huatli agrees to travel with Angrath. Angrath sneers at Huatli’s ambitions to become Warrior Poet, seeing the title as insignificant in comparison to what the Multiverse has to offer. Huatli is uncomfortable with Angrath’s assertions, but he continues to challenge her assumptions and beliefs. By what right does the history of the Sun Empire have to be remembered as opposed to that of the River Heralds, or even the Legion of Dusk? He compares her logic to that of an ant, and sees the fight for the Golden City as armies ants fighting for control of an anthill.

” ‘You’re killing each other over who is powerful enough to decide what history is. You argue and spit to decide who will rule, but no one is truly free. Who are you to say that you are right, fool?’

Huatli felt conflicted.

She wondered who Angrath thought he was to speak to her so bluntly. He was crude and terse, but if he was telling the truth, he knew things Huatli had never conceived of. If he came from a different world, perhaps things worked differently where he was from. Huatli felt like a child, insistent and impetuous, boldly proclaiming her own importance. She disliked the implication that she ought to know better, because truthfully, how could she? The path she had walked in life was lined with walls far taller than she could see over.” (“Glimpse The Far Side Of The Sun”, R&D Narrative Team)

While Huatli contemplates this, Angrath demonstrates a partial Planeswalk to show her what Planeswalking truly is. As she follows him through the Blind Eternities, he opens a rift in the air and reveals a portal into Kaldheim, a snow-covered, mountainous plane. However, they’re both yanked back onto Ixalan, and Angrath tells Huatli: “Freedom starts with knowing when you’re trapped.” Huatli still doesn’t understand Planeswalking, but continues to be troubled by these new truths.

In this internal conflict, we see the freedom-loving part of Red start to butt heads with order-loving White. On one hand, Huatli has always wanted to become the Warrior Poet of the Sun Empire, but lacking the freedom to pursue other stories and discover other truths is something that disturbs her deeply.

Angrath and Huatli then stumble upon the tomb of Saint Elenda, the progenitor of the vampiric Legion of Dusk. Elenda rises from her tomb, prompting Huatli to prepare for battle and Angrath to stand aside. The ancient vampire is confused by Huatli’s decision to fight, and asks why she would feel the need to defend herself. Huatli recites a poem to explain the enmity between the Legion of Dusk and the Sun Empire, and Elenda is incensed.

The vampire bared her teeth. “I left the Church with the knowledge of the ritual to take on my burden, and they used that to become invaders?”

Huatli glared. ‘What were they meant to do with your gift?’

‘They were meant to learn humility.’

Huatli’s jaw fell open. The Legion of Dusk? Humble?

‘They were meant to search for salvation for us all,’ Elenda continued. ‘I see I must teach them what they forgot.’”(“Glimpse The Far Side Of The Sun”, R&D Narrative Team)

As Elenda disappears, Huatli remains stunned by this revelation. In a short amount of time, many of the truths she has taken for granted seem to be unfounded or flawed; she has allied herself with a powerful merfolk, glimpsed worlds she has never imagined with a minotaur, and learned the true mission of the vampires. While “befriending” might be too strong of a word, Huatli’s connection to these new personalities has made her reconsider her beliefs. But true to the White part of her color identity, Huatli still remains focused on her goal: to locate the Golden City for the Sun Empire.

Though Huatli has kept her endgame in mind throughout her travels, she has also made herself open to new experiences, people and perspectives. Travel and exploration naturally changes a person, and her discoveries have made Huatli less certain of the natural order of her world as she sees it. In this, Huatli is starting to understand that the tribes of Ixalan all have their own part to play on this plane. While she remains the champion of her people, she cannot turn away from the new discoveries she has made within herself.

In the final struggle on Orazca, Huatli discovers along with her competitors for the Immortal Sun are gone. As everyone makes to depart, Huatli uses her abilities to ride home on the enormous three-headed Elder Dinosaur Zacama. Her arrival at home is cause for celebration, but also minor consternation for the Sun Emperor, Apatzec. Though she has become the Warrior Poet, Huatli has completely forgotten about the title in the midst of her discoveries and relates her account to a displeased Apatzec. He was hoping to use Huatli’s story as a cassus belli to expand the empire to Fort Adanto, which offends Huatli. Despite her arguments against war, he dismisses her and tells her that she is not to give her account at her investiture the next day.

Huatli comes home to her family and relates her stories to them, including her ability to Planeswalk. Amazed, her family encourages her to fully Planeswalk across the Multiverse. As Huatli makes the decision to leave, it’s clear that she is no longer someone whose perspective is tied just to the culture and people she grew up with. History and its tales are for everyone to share and record, and so she sets out across the Blind Eternities to gather these stories as only she knows how.

Like Vraska’s journey, Huatli’s has shown her new perspectives and revealed abilities that she never realized were in her possession. In her time searching the jungles of Ixalan, Huatli has become more open-minded, understanding and thoughtful about the lives of others. Everyone has their own story to tell, and Huatli’s character arc shows us that the many assumptions we make about ourselves and others are often incomplete. It is in looking past the surface and challenging our own assumptions that we can make our own discoveries and fully explore the world around us.

 

Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Huatli, Radiant Champion” by Chris Rahn