Friday, July 11, 2014

Retribution in Ravnica 12: Self-Esteem


The days off had done the artificer some goodat least superficially.

Glancing into the full-length mirror at Beatrix’s, Venser estimated he’d gained about five pounds (probably all fat from the exclusively deep-fried Schmazzgordios Guild diet, but still progress), and he figured he didn’t look quite as pale as usual. Urzawas that even a bit of tanned glow on his face? Looking at himself so long made Venser feel strange and he quickly turned away and threw his cloak over the mirror. Then he pushed open the bedroom door and headed for Beatrix’s kitchen.

The smell of fried moa eggs and slightly burned bread greeted himthe same breakfast he’d enjoyed every morning for the last five days. Venser smiled to himself.

Beatrix spun around as soon as she heard his footstep on the kitchen tile. Her high-voltage ivory grin was in place. “Good morning, slacker!” she chirped, waving a spatula and flicking hot oil everywhere. Venser dodged and ran his fingers through his hair. He offered up a grin to the Izzet mage, noticing how crookedly her apron was tied on over her gear. Beatrix saw him looking and blushed lightly, turning away to flip the eggs on the stovethough they were already twice as crispy as they should have been.

Venser slid into a seat at the kitchen table. He had a strange flutter of deja vu as he did so… and it felt like the shadow of some winged thing passing over his heart. Well, I have been here for nearly a week… it is getting repetitive he reasoned.

“All right, eats’re on!” Beatrix bounced over and clattered a plate down onto her place at the table, then tried to set Venser’s more gracefully in front of him. An egg slid off and landed with a wet plop on the smooth wood. Beatrix gasped in horror and bit her lip, reaching for the egg.

“Don’t worry about it,” Venser said, staying her hand. He plucked the fried monstrosity up in his fingers and put it directly into his mouth. “It’s delicious,” he said through a mouthful of egg whites so crispy it felt like his gums were being stabbed. Beatrix blushed again and looked away.

A few seconds later pint glasses full of orange juice crashed down next to each of their plates. Venser swallowed the egg painfully and reached eagerly for his beverage. His throat was grateful for the fresh juice that slid coolly down.

“So,” Beatrix was saying. “It’s been great, but I have like a million messages from Ral about work. Pretty much used up all my time off this week… not that it wasn’t time well spent,” she added, more softly. Venser drank more juice.

A million messages from Ral. Venser resisted the urge to grin maniacally into his cup.

“I definitely have to go in today,” Beatrix said, like it was the end of the world. She stabbed apathetically at her food, chewing it with robotic dedication.

“That’s my cue to leave, isn’t it,” Venser said. He nodded matter-of-factly as he wrestled with some charred bread. He wondered how many people Liliana had killed since he’d been gone.

“No, no, that’s not what I was sayingnot necessarily…” Beatrix dropped her gaze and covered her latest blush with gulps of orange juice.

Some hairs stood up on the back of Venser’s neck.

“I mean, you could stay, if you wanted to,” Beatrix continued. She put her game face on and smiled directly at him, meeting Venser’s gray eyes with her own electric blue ones. “I like having you around, Luke.”

Venser ran his hand through his hair. This was not in the plan. Beatrix was liketwenty? Or whatever Ravnica’s equivalent for that was. Weren’t guildmages her age supposed to be out for fun and romps? And I have certainly not checked those boxes while I’ve stayed with her Venser reassured himself. I’m just old buzzkill Venser, doing nothing and disappointing everyone. So if that was true, why was Beatrix looking at him like that?

Phyrexian cocks. Venser took a long drink of juice.

When he set the glass down, he felt completely calm. “Beatrix,” he finally said. “I kind of like living alone.”

Beatrix looked perplexed. “But you don’t live alone. Ral told me you have an Orzhov roommate.”

Venser felt white-hot flames of rage shoot up in his gullet. His face didn’t change. “So… you discussed me… with your boss?” Venser raised an eyebrow at the fluxmage. Beatrix looked away guiltily. Venser felt guilty, too, but this was his only out. “I like my privacy, you know.”

Beatrix nodded. “Sorry,” she murmured. Venser stood up, feeling extremely nauseated. He’d never seen the Izzet look so de-energized and deflated. He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. She looked up, her bright blue eyes shining and open and trustworthy and honest. And hopeful.

“Look, Beatrix. Living with my… housemate is basically like living alone. Orzhov are the deadest living people on the plane, right?” Venser was grateful to see Beatrix giggle. “I’m still getting used to this… Azorius thing, you know. Work. I’m not a social butterfly like your… other friends. And I mean that in the best way. The last few days have been great. It’s just… not me. Does that make any sense? Probably not, and even if not... Is it alright with you if we part on good terms?”

As Beatrix considered his words, Venser used the moments of quiet to memorize a few facets of her face. The dimple in her lower left cheek. The beauty mark above her right eye. The length of her dark lashes.

“That’s fine, Luke. Take care, will you?” Beatrix reached out and took his hand, squeezed it once.

“Thank you,” Venser said, sliding out of her grip. He bowed his head to her. “If I’ve somehow imposed

“No, you’ve been nothing but a perfect gentleman,” Beatrix said with a sigh. “Though to be honest, some nights I was wishing you weren’t…”

Venser raised his head and looked at her. “You know how it is with constructs,” he said, smiling weakly. “You can animate them, but it doesn’t mean they’re alive.”

Beatrix grinned ruefully and nodded. “Get outta here,” she said with a laugh and a wave of her hand. Venser did.

But a half hour later when he’d gotten dressed, gathered his things, and stood outside in the street in front of Beatrix’s apartment, he glanced in her window and noticed the fluxmage still sat where he’d left her, in front of a cold breakfast.

__________________



Nefarox screamed.

“Godsdamnit, Bolas, that was my favorite toenail!” The demon lord writhed in agony upon a barbed wire rack somewhere in the bowels of Grixis, upon the plane of Alara.

“Such a drama king,” Nicol Bolas chastised. “You have seven more.”

“Stop, stop!” Nefarox shrieked as Bolas raised the red-hot tongs once again.

“Yes?” the Elder Dragon paused, fixing the demon lord with one huge green eye.

“Alright, alright, if I tell you something, will you leave off?” Nefarox panted.

“If it’s something useful, yes,” Bolas replied.

Nefarox rolled his eyes. “Okay. Here’s what I know: She was big into investigating spectral phenomenon right before she vanished from Dominaria. She ran experiments, recruited demons to try stuff out, even tried to bring back some characters… I think the names I heard from Crosis were like ‘the Weaver’ or something and ‘Freyalice.”

“And your understanding of the purpose of her experiments and investigations…?”

“Seemed like she wanted to crack the secret of creating phantasmal infrastructure.”

__________________


Kos stumbled through the wall of Tajic’s office and sat down to wait. His memories of human physics were getting the best of him. He’d used the last of his imagination to walk through that wall, and now there was no way he could levitate. The ghost of the old man slouched heavily against the smooth stones of Sunhome, the Boros compound where he’d spent much of his previous life. He relaxed back into the shadow of a large file cabinet, and berated himself into staying awake.

Agrus Kos, ex-wojek and current bigwig spectral investigator, was tired. And drunk.

The office of the Blade of the Legion was immaculate and, in Kos’s humble opinion, quite a bit too ornate for a military man. The over-the-hill inspector eyed the gilded vases on Tajic’s desk with a distasteful squint.

“Maybethat’swhy... he’s got the jones for Teysa,” Kos slurred to himself. “Trying to get hishands on… allofthose fancy Orzhov interiorthings...”

A door in an exterior hallway clanged and Kos got more alert. The Red Moon banquet should have just ended, and the legion would be heading to bed or heading out to get into mischief. Kos stared stoically at Tajic’s office door. He was here to find out one thing only, and he knew the legionnaire had to stop by the office to key the final security code for the night. The sound of uneven, heavy footsteps got closer. Kos counted two people from the pattern of footfalls.

“Interesssssting. Kinda late for an officers’ meeting.” Kos flicked his bam-stick out from habit. Of course, this was a spectral model and only stunned, instead of incinerating. But it still made him feel better to have it pointed at the door.

The gold-inlaid door creaked open and Kos saw the familiar lights of the halls of Sunhome glint off of impeccably sculpted armor. The sexy silhouette of Tajic, Blade of the Legion pushed open the door and fell back into his own office. A young soldier appeared to have his or her arms wrapped around Tajic’s neck.

Kos smirked and yawned. Yep, kinda late for an officers’ meeting.

“Did you hear something?” Tajic’s companion said, sticking its head up over the legionnaire’s shoulder and peering into the office.

Well fuck Szadek in the ear… Kos shook his head in the shadows. If it isn’t Wenslauv Junior.

“I heard nothing. Perhaps you’re just nervous,” Tajic said, as he soothingly stroked Junior’s long auburn ponytail. The leggy skyjek frowned and pushed her way past Tajic into the dark office.

“No. I’m sure I heard something,” she said. Tajic shrugged and touched a small, ornate lantern near the door. It flared to an orange brightness. “I felt a presence,” Junior insisted.

Good. Sticking to your guns. Following your instincts. Your mother would be proud… Kos watched Junior’s wary eyes, the prodigal roc-rider ignoring Tajic’s very patronizing, amused stare as he tracked the movements of her body with patient, deeply earth-colored eyes.

Wenslauv Jr. put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips at the office in general when she failed to find anything unusual. Kos’s cloaking spell had melded him completely with the file cabinet’s shadow, so she’d looked right past him. The old wojek chuckled to himself. Still a lot for these young’uns to learn.

Tajic came up behind Junior and put his hands on her armored hips, leaning down slightly to brush his lips against her cheek.

The young skyknight raised a hand to hold him off. “Johann told me never to trust a trustworthy-looking room,” she said.

Tajic paused. His face visibly darkened in aspect and Kos felt a pang of empathy for the commander. “I have thought of Johann every day since the Vraska incident,” Tajic said, his voice low with emotion, “But let’s not speak of him just now…”

Wenslauv Jr. nodded. She began to ungird herself with the same speed her mother used to fling grenades. Kos felt his heart constrict. He missed Wenslauv Sr. as his partner, as his friend, and as a person that made life seem more hopeful.

A breastplate and gauntlet clattered to the floor. Junior’s skin was a dull ivory in the low light of Tajic’s office. The commander reached out and removed Junior’s helm from her head. A cascade of red hair fell down upon her angular shoulders.

The young skyjek turned where she stood, presenting her half-naked body to her commanding officer. Tajic looked down at her appreciatively. His fingers slid across Junior’s fair shoulders, his lips touched her forehead.

“Excuse me, Legionnaire,” Kos said, materializing into sight.

“Gods have mercy!” Tajic shouted, jumping back. Kos enjoyed the fleeting terrified expression on Tajic’s face immensely, but to his credit the commander had recovered and had a dagger in each hand half a breath later. Wenslauv Jr. spun towards the sound of Kos’s voice and already had her sword drawn. Kos winced as he noticed how perky Junior’s small breasts looked in the low lamplight. The old wojek put up a reassuring hand and turned his gaze away, making sure to put on his “sober voice.”

“Junior, it’s me, Kos. Do you mind, um—”

“Uncle Kos?!” Wenslauv Jr. screeched, dropping her sword and throwing her arms over her exposed chest. “For Razia’s sake—what in the bloody gobber ass are you doing here!” The young skyknight was glaring at Kos furiously, he could see that much as he peeked through his fingers. Tajic looked shocked at Junior’s outburst, which made Kos chuckle again.

Swearing like merchant’s bastard. Her mother wouldn’t approve, but I’m proud.

“I’m sorry for my bad timing,” Kos said. Junior had snatched one of Tajic’s spare cloaks off the wall and jerked it on to cover her nakedness. It was presumptuous of the skyjek to touch the commander’s clothes without his permission, and from that Kos knew this wasn’t their first tryst.

“Like hells you’re sorry,” Junior was muttering. She crossed her arms and sulked at him. Now Tajic’s placid, charming smile was back and he chuckled too as he sheathed his daggers. With the grace of a panther Tajic pulled out his desk chair for Junior and motioned her to make herself comfortable. Then the Blade of the Legion grinned up at Kos.

“Chief Inspector. To what do we owe this pleasant surprise?”

How does he keep his teeth that white? It’s unnatural. Kos realized he was squinting at the commander and cleared his throat. “I have a question for you, Legionnaire.”

“You have permission to ask me anything, Kos. You know that.”

“Do you know where Feather is?” Kos felt a surge of adrenaline flood his body as he spoke the name, and it felt good. He wouldn’t have to fake being clear-headed, now.

Tajic blinked carefully. His dark gaze fell to the bam-stick in Kos’s hand. Then the commander put a hand on Wenslauv Jr.’s shoulder. “Regina, you should go.”

“I think I should stay,” Junior said, turning her glare from Kos to Tajic.

The commander casually clasped both hands behind his back. “Soldier, you are relieved for the evening. Return to the garrison,” Tajic ordered, his voice notably cool. Wenslauv Jr.’s jaw dropped.

She stood, nearly as tall as the commander, and raised her chin defiantly. “I cannot believe th—”

“And take an extra cleaning shift at the roc stalls in the morning.”

“Taj—”

“Two shifts.”

“You—”

“Three shifts. Was there anything else, soldier?” Tajic looked pointedly and dispassionately at Junior. Kos would have felt bad for her, but it was just too funny. Plus, she was asking for it with all the insubordinance.

Junior finally shut her mouth. She gave a stiff, perfect salute. But as she did so she made sure to let the cloak fall away from her body, basically thrusting her breasts in Tajic’s face. The commander’s cheeks darkened as he set his mouth in a firm line and turned his full attention to Kos. Wenslauv Jr. stalked out of the room like a queen, still wearing Tajic’s cloak and letting her armor dangle in her hand. She shut the door just slightly too hard. After her footsteps receded down the hall, both men exhaled a little.

“You okay with her going out like that? Your cloak is pretty recognizable,” Kos said.

Tajic shrugged. “I’ve never understood why soldiers have to so devoutly hide who their lovers are.”

Kos raised his eyebrows. “You’re quite the romantic.”

Tajic smiled and looked at Kos quizzically. “Aren’t you, Inspector?”

__________________



The street opened up to the frontage of 111 Sterling and Venser felt a strange sensation as he grasped the handle of the door; spoke the recognition words. It was a settling feeling, a calm that fell over him and seemed to make his mind sensitive to everything familiar about his surroundings. The wisteria trellis seemed to nod at him as he pushed the door open; the scent of new rugs and stained wood felt like it pulled him inward. Even the antagonistic quartet of crows that raked his ears with insults were like old friends welcoming him home. He stepped across the threshold of the building and shut the door behind him.

“Master Venser!” Doorkeeper’s sincere voice brought a smile to the artificer’s face. He looked up at the indefatigable homunculus that kept vigil over their front door.

“I’m back,” Venser said simply. Doorkeeper nodded happily, his mouth wide in a sharp-toothed, drooly grin.

“Coffee?” the homunculus said, and it gave Venser pausesomething about the tone, the brevity. Did Doorkeeper just imply… did he just crack a joke?... Venser eyed the door warden. Doorkeeper looked neutral and attentive and transparent as ever, blinking his one huge oceanic eye.

The artificer shrugged. “Sure, coffee would be great.”

The homunculus had a good brew going in seconds, and the fragrant burbling made the settling feeling even stronger. Venser furrowed his browit was a strange and foreign feeling. Even when he’d returned to Urborg after all the escapades with Jhoira… the main sensation he’d felt when he set foot on the swampland of his birthplace was mild disappointment.

“Doorkeeper, want to bring up a bottle of wine from the cellar, too? We should celebrate.”

“Which bottle would the Lord prefer?” Doorkeeper asked with a quirk of his eye.

“Dealer’s choice,” Venser said. The homunculus disappeared with short quick steps down the wine cellar stairs.

Venser cocked his ear upwards, listening for any sign of his housemate. He imagined her coming down from her floor at any moment, grilling him about where he’d been and berating him for whatever imaginary wrongs he’d done during his vacation.

Beatrix might have been hurt, and Liliana might have slept with Ral, but it didn’t matter. Venser was home, and it was a good feeling.

Doorkeeper popped up with a serious bottle, and Venser opened it with giddily shameful bad formshreds of foil and bits of cork littered the counter by the time he was done.

“Jor is rolling in his grave,” Venser murmured to himself, his glee sharpened, thinking of all the times he’d had to watch the cleric pour wine for Liliana with perfect precision. “Ah, I guess he’s not dead, so he’s… rolling in the Mirrodin sun, where we put him! Anyway, he’d twist if he saw us now,” Venser said to himself, still smiling. Doorkeeper got three goblets, grinning at the artificer even though he had no idea who Jor was or what in the Abyss the Master was talking about.

Venser splashed blood-red wine into the trio of glasses and toasted Doorkeeper.

“To being back,” he said. The homunculus clinked stemware with him and they tasted the fine wine with mutual grins on their faces.

“Is LilI mean, Lilianahere?” Venser asked Doorkeeper. The homunculus nodded.

“The Lady hasn’t left the building yet, today, Master.”

“Oh good, I should take her up some of this.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Doorkeeper bowed before jumping back up to his vigil.

Venser raised his glass at the homunculus again. “Thanks, Doorkeeper. Good to see you. Good to be back.” Then the artificer went up the stairs.

...

“Lil…” Venser turned the knob and pushed open the door to his roommate’s part of the building, hoping to get her opinion on the wine he’d brought up to share with her.

Venser blinked. Liliana was finally using her egregiously ornate bed, it seemed. And It appeared as though she was hanging from the infrastructure of the canopy. She wasn’t wearing any clothes. And standing behind her, also unclothed, was

“Oh, hey. You must be Venser. I’m Ral.” A buck-naked mage had one hand raised in greeting, the forearm decorated with a faded dragon tattoo. The other hand was holding… some kind of caliper.

Venser’s housemate craned her head around from its lofty position above the mattress.

Get out!” Liliana hissed at him venomously. The Izzet mage reached up and rapped her on the thigh with the metal tool.

“Calm down. Don’t you guys lock your doors?” Ral was saying to her nonchalantly. “It’s not his fault.”

Liliana ignored Ral and narrowed her eyes at Venser. “What are you doing here?”

“As cliched as it sounds, I was just leaving,” Venser said.

“Good,” Liliana spat.

“Looks like it,” Venser returned.

“Nice to meet you,” Ral said.

Venser shut the door. He hadn’t meant to slam it, but the sound reverberated throughout the hall for a second or two.
_______________


...to be continued in Chapter 13: Over the Mountain

Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction
#RIRfic

Friday, July 4, 2014

Retribution in Ravnica 11: The Moneymaker


Karlov Manor was situated in the center of Orzhov territory. It lacked the sweeping openness of Ovitizia. But, it was much more elevated… and thus, closer to the stars. And it was secure. The elf could feel the presence of a host of Orzhov spirits continuously patrolling the grounds. She also sensed dire enchantments placed in layers around the perimeter. True, it was still basically house arrest, but the Grand Envoy’s house was simply so much better than the one the elf had been enduring until a few days ago.

It was nearing midnight and Emmara Tandris was still hard at work in her adopted garden: a multi-level veranda, bounded by masterfully sculpted iron railings and trellises, that completely encircled the fifth and sixth stories of Karlov Manor.

Orzhov territory felt far different than Selesnyamore dark corners, more moving shadows, harsher contrast between light and darkbut Emmara was starting to feel very comfortable. Teysa had wanted to give her access to the lower grounds but had ultimately deemed it not safe enough for the high-profile elf.

“You can have free run of these floors and the attached balconies,” Teysa had said, waving her cane dismissively at the ridiculously generous urban spread. “Do with them as you will. Wouldn’t kill us to have more green around here.”

Emmara had nodded, dumbstruck. Teysa had given her an inscrutable look, then gone back to work. Emmara hadn’t seen the advokist for nearly a week.

Taking the Grand Envoy at her word, Emmara had begun to extend the reach of the Manor’s existing flora and to carefully seed some that were uncommon to Orzhov regions. Intrigued by the ubiquitous velvety black roses that populated the Manor, Emmara had imported some white flowers that she felt would complement the darker hues. Jasmine, plumeria, and morning glory clustered gently around the ebony blooms, cradling the heavy roses in clouds of lightness.

The varied floral texture around the Manor was now both avant garde and elegant, and Emmara was sure that the Grand Envoy would appreciate the diversity of scent as well. The thought brought a quiet smile to her face, and Emmara reached out to touch one of the metal lattices. The ubiquitous Karlov ironwork had initially not appealed to the reedy blonde elf, but she quickly found they made sturdy foundations for complex, heavy floral arrangements and challenging growth patterns.

Many silver linings here. Emmara hummed to herself in the peaceful night, coaxing some ivy into draping loops along the frontage of the fifth floor veranda. Soft light was cast over the walkway at intervals by ornate gold glowspheres, and there were even natural full-wax candlesan unheard-of luxury in modern times—to add to the ambience. The candles were lovingly held in antique sconces of carved bone… lovely, despite the morbidity. Emmara extended a pale hand and brushed a bit of debris off one of the sconces.

“Working late?”

Emmara jumped back out of reflex, even as she recognized the low, rich voice. Turning, she saw Teysa silhouetted in the archway of the fifth floor parlor.

“Grand Envoy, I’m so sorry. Still a bit jumpy,” Emmara laughed nervously. She inclined her head to the Orzhov Guildmaster and blushed self-consciously.

“It’s smart to be jumpy,” Teysa said, stumping out to the veranda with the support of her cane. “Besides… I crept up on you, like a… creep.” Lord Karlov winked at her and they both started to chuckle. The Guildmaster looked around curiously at the verdant lattices that surrounded them.

Emmara swept an arm towards her latest handiwork. “I thought this part of the railing looked a bit bare. And, I daresay the blacks look more black with the addition of the white blooms…”

“I’ve noticed,” Teysa said approvingly. “I apologize for being remiss in communication this week. I hope you have been comfortable?” The Grand Envoy’s pale face seemed etched with true concern. Her piercings glinted in the low light as she regarded Emmara with questioning, darkly arched brows and her trademark platinum eyes.

“Oh, very comfortable,” Emmara replied. “Thank you for inquiring.” Teysa smiled. Emmara noticed the Grand Envoy leaned heavily on her cane, and that her black silk dress was a bit rumpled.

“I think you’ve been working late,” Emmara murmured, without thinking. Teysa laughed.

“Perhaps you should go into law.” The Grand Envoy grinned. “You have astute powers of observation, it seems.”

Emmara felt herself turning red in the face. She started to look away when Teysa reached out and lightly touched her elbow.

“Do you mind if I sit here awhilewhile you work?”

“N-no… No. Not at all.” 

“Thank you,” Teysa said, lowering herself onto a bench. Emmara turned toward the railing, then back to the archway. Then she picked up a basket full of nightshade starters.

“What do you plan to do with that?” The Grand Envoy asked, nodding toward the poisonous plants.

“I’m not sure,” Emmara said, biting her lip. “I… thought that having some around might be useful, in a pinch

“I agree. Let’s make corsages from the blooms when we attend the Guildpact Ball.”

“The Guildpact… Ball?” Emmara felt faint. She put a hand on the railing to steady herself, cradling the basket of nightshade in the other.

“Yes. You should attend. You’re the Selesnya representative. Trostani can’t rip herselfitselftheirselveswhateverout of the ground and cram into the ballroom at New Prahv, after all.”

Emmara considered. She’d be out in public as herself, for the first time in ages. Exposed. And Jace would be there.

“I have to go, and I think it’s only fair that you suffer, too.” Teysa was grinning.

“Will it be

“Secure?” Teysa said. “Of course. Jacob will be there, and I will take extra precautions.”

“Won’t it be

“Scandalous?” Teysa laughed. “Of course. Doesn’t that make it that much more appealing?”

Emmara thought about it, and as she did the nightshade starters in the basket quadrupled in size and sprouted tiny red berries.

“It does.” Emmara smiled at the Grand Envoy, plucking a bit of nightshade and tucking it behind her pointy right ear.
__________________



“Oh. My. God. There’s a bug in my pants.” Lucent Dao, acting Guildmaster of Rakdos, shook his left leg with vehemence.

“You can’t really call those pants, by any civilized definition,” Pivlic snapped, flapping sweatily up through another row of grapevines.

“They’re the latest style in chapbreeches!” retorted Dao. “But who would expect an imp to know anything about fashion, with your six-inch legs on a good day.”

“Well my third leg is a lot longer than yours and that’s what matters,” Pivlic growled, swatting a hornet away with a clawed hand and cursing.

Lucent didn’t answer. But a few seconds later he whimpered and stopped in the path. Pivlic flapped around to see what was the matter, and saw Lucent shaking dozens of earwigs off his toned and clean-shaven calf. The Rakdos moaned and reached down his vest, pulling out a caterpillar the size of a quill pen. Dao shrieked and flung it into the vines.

“I feel like a Golgari whore!” he wailed at Pivlic, wringing his hands and rushing to catch up with the imp. Pivlic rolled his eyes. As if I could save him from the insectoid assault.

“Please tell me you did not put on cologne this morning.” Pivlic eyed his business partner, sniffing suspiciously. Lucent huffed.

“Of course I did! It’s not like I’m going to pay five hundred zinos for a bottle of Zonot Legend Aquasterya III and not rock it!”

Pivlic looked to the heavens for patience. “Lucent. Do you know what the dominant note in Aquasterya III is, for the Void’s sake?”

“I dunno, Pivli. To me it smells like really good sexwith a really hot, really rich merfolk lord.” An audible buzzing was growing louder by the second.

“Yes. The smell of seabloom,” Pivlic said in a resigned monotone.

“What’s that buzzing?” Dao was swiveling his head around and swatting gnats from his fair shoulders.

“Utvaran Wasps,” Pivlic sighed. “Seabloom is known to mimic their mating secretions.”

“Oh fun!” Lucent said. “Wait, waitwhat did you just say, Piv?!”

“Run.”



A couple hours later Rakdos Guildmaster and impish entrepreneur were soaking in an ice bath outside of the winery shed. It was time for their meeting with the guildless sharecroppers, and Pivlic had no better idea than to hold the meeting right there, in between the tool shed and the outhouses. Both Pivlic and Dao were naked and shivering, the wasp welts on their skins gradually calming.

A bored Gruul druid came over to add more ice to their tubs. She curled a lip at them in a sneer that would have skinned a boar.

“Zyra, would you please have the leader of the guildless meet us here? He or she can sit upon that… elegant… stump, and any other petitioners can line up and wait just there, near the nut tree.”

The druid snorted. “You do realize, imp, I am the daughter in the line of the shamans to Cizarsim himself, Lord of Chaos and

“Yes, Zyra, it is an honor to have you with us.” Pivlic said. Also, the economic value of your clan’s entire region is about forty zinos. If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t be working for us.

“Good. You should feel honored,” Zyra said. The young druid tossed her white hair and spun on her heel to do as Pivlic asked. She was talented at magic, and beautiful, and Pivlic was sure she’d find a way to make it in the craziness that was Ravnica.

“I can’t feel my pelvis,” Lucent said.

“Good,” Pivlic said, “That way you can actually be mentally present during this meeting.”

“Hey! I was pretty good with Opal, wasn’t I? If she’s renting our machines that’s an extra hundred grand in zinos a month at least…”

“Lucent, my ass is a topography of wasp stings because you thought a couple spritzes would do for a trip to the vineyard. Shut. Up. If you make anyanysuspect remarks, winks, grins, gestures, expressions, or et cetera during these guildless hearings, I swear I will personally

“Oh, that cropper’s cuuuute. Look at the definition in his waist! Bet it’s from pulling turnips.”

“Gods help me!” Pivlic breathed.

“I’m just kidding you, Pivli. You’re so easy.” Lucent reached across the tub of ice water and tweaked the imp’s cheek. Pivlic snapped at him and nearly took off the tip of the Guildmaster’s index finger. Dao laughed.

“Besides,” he said. “You know I’m all talk. Myc’s the only one for me.”



“This wage is horseshit!” the farmer shouted, and Pivlic looked anxiously around for Zyra.

“No, no, I mean, it might be shit, but it’s fair shit. Look, the Guildpact signed off on it!” Lucent stood up in the watercausing many guildless to glance away uneasilyand shoved an unfurled scroll in their direction. The Guildpact’s signature blazed true blue in the afternoon light.

Jace Beleren.

The signature flared right below a long sentence, which Dao read aloud.

“After thoroughly investigating the matter, and concluding a wage of 3 zinos per hour is the average in Utvara, I sign here in full support of all guildless currently farming the land in dispute to be offered employment by the new venture at a rate of 3.5 zinos per hour, with no discrimination as to guild affiliation (or lack thereof), race, creed, color, age, marital status, orientation, or corporeal status.”

“But I make twice that selling turnips!” one sharecropper shouted.

“The Guildpact averaged in all the thrull labor and ogre-controlled areas of Utavara,” another saidmore quietly, but still angry.

Lucent Dao shrugged.

“The land is ours. Our boss bought it, we’re managing it now,” he said, matter of factly. Pivlic admired the young Guildmaster’s cool before this crowd. It was a completely different Lucent than the one that had run screaming from bees a few hours prior. “You can take this deal, or you can get off our land,” Lucent concluded calmly. Very calmly. In fact, Pivlic realized the Guildmaster’s voice had dropped to just barely audible over the course of the last sentence. The imp watched his young friend. Lucent’s gaze moved from one guildless to the next, his expression cool, his pace unhurried. He seemed to look directly into the eyes of each member of the crowd.

Pivlic wiped his brow. Zyra finally appeared at his right.

“Need me to anoint some rowdies in the green and red fires?” she asked cheerfully. It was the happiest Pivlic had ever seen the young druid. He made a mental note to try and keep employee Zyra very, very happy.

“No, I think Dao’s got it handled…” Pivlic said quickly. “But thank you, I’m sure your talents will come in very handy soon enough…”

“Whatever, imp,” Zyra said, pouting. Pivlic was glad he’d never had any childrenespecially daughters.

“Zyra will take your signatures over there,” Dao was saying. Pivlic snapped to attention. The crowd of guildless was shuffling obedientlydespite some grumbling here and theretowards the winery building. Lucent turned toward the imp and druid. “Zyra, gorgeous, if you please… will you kindly sign all those… citizens… into our service?” The Guildmaster grinned at the shaman and the two must have shared some kind of split second inside joke, because the intractable Gruul whelp was giggling.

“Yes, Lucent,” Zyra said, and hurried off. Pivlic blinked. He was obviously too old for this shit.

“I need a vacation,” the imp sighed, sinking up to his nose in the icy water.

“You can vacation when you’re dead. You’re an imp, after all,” Lucent said, laughing. The Rakdos Guildmaster slid deeper into the ice bath, too. “What an exciting day. You know, I think I kind of like this numb-crotch feeling after all, Pivli. I feel ten slab skinnier, and I’m pretty sure the cold water is shrinking my butt-pores...”

Pivlic submerged his entire head in the frigid tub.
_________________



The sunset was burningly beautiful as it scalded the rocky Utvaran expanses with hues of orange and scarlet. Jacob saw the vineyard come into view, and checked his pocketwatch. Thirty seconds behind schedule. The ghostly agent clucked to his mount with a gentle hand. The tall grey gelding responded with eagerness, quickening its gait.

Jacob patted the horse’s shoulder fondly. “Thank you, Seraph. I’d rather be on time and get this over with,” he murmured. Seraph snorted and kicked up extra dust on the unimproved road.

The horse was all for show, of course. Jacob could have just as easily floated or teleported to the site. But the steed had the desired effect as Teysa Karlov’s right-hand geist reined to a stop in front of the dishevelled imp and Guildmaster who stood in front of the winery building.

Jacob noted with pleasure that the imp, Pivlic, eyed the horse with envy while the Rakdos crossed his arms and put a lot of energy into looking extremely disinterested.

“Guildmaster Dao. Pivlic,” Jacob said, dismounting and bowing low with respect.

“Jacob,” Pivlic nodded in return. Lucent Dao looked at his fingernails, a raised eyebrow the only acknowledgment he deigned to give.

“I am only here to inspect the contract, and then I’ll be on my way and out of yours.”

“This way,” Pivlic said, motioning with a clawed hand. Dao stepped in front of him and pushed open the door to the winery.

Jacob entered the cool interior of the building. At least, he thought it looked cool. An ogre and a Simic guildmage sat at the other end of the simple room, hunched atop stools and drinking something frothy from rustic mugs.

“Jacob, this is our Master of Labor, Garulszand our Science Advisor, Marivere Villis Zog.”

“A pleasure,” Jacob said. The ogre raised her mug and the guildmage inclined her head in recognition. Pivlic waved Jacob toward an unoccupied table upon which documents were spread and a quill pen was parked at the ready.

Jacob walked over to the documents. He stood at ease in front of the table, his eyes expertly scanning the paperwork. As Teysa’s manservant and spectral agent, Jacob took his time. Pivlic kept his hands laced as he flapped quietly in place. Lucent sighed and looked out the window.

After several minutes, Jacob looked up and nodded at Pivlic. The imp’s eyes glinted brightly.

“This looks fine to me,” Jacob said. He picked up the quill. “Grand Envoy Karlov hereby approves the sale of this land to Opal Treakoff.” The specter signed the documents with a flourish. Pivlic audibly clapped his hands and exhaled. The Rakdos smiled silently and reached for a decanter.

“Thank you,” Pivlic said, flapping over to “shake” Jacob’s hand. Dao said nothing but did pass around glasses of wine. Of course, Jacob could not partake.

“My pleasure,” the specter said. “Grand Envoy Karlov is expecting my return. Good luck.” Jacob left the fleshies to their petty celebration. He mounted Seraph and, with passionate relief, turned the horse toward Karlov Manor.

Steed and rider were ghosts of speed beneath the Ravnican twilight.

Jacob could only think of getting home. The Lord had lately been spending much of her free time on the fifth and sixth floors.
_______________



“Knock, knock,” Doc said.

“Who’s there,” Tezzeret asked mechanically, his mind elsewhere as the voice in his head prepared to torment him with another inane joke.

“No, there’s someone knocking,” Doc hissed. Tezzeret looked up from the documents he was holding in his etherium hand. The formidable metal-enhanced planeswalker listened quietly for a few moments, sitting still as a stalking panther within his dimly-lit office.

“I don’t hear anything. You must be losing it,” Tezzeret said to Doc as he returned to working on the contracts Bolas had given him.

“You’re the one with the voice in your head! You’re losing it! I know I heard something.”

“It’s the sound of me trying to ignore you.”

“There! There it was, again! Did you hear it?”

Tezzeret checked a growling sigh and got up from his desk. The black Ravnican-styled cloak he wore swirled around his leanly muscular frame. He flipped his long steel-colored dreads over his shoulder as he walked to the door. Placing his gloved etherium hand on the wood, he cast a minor detection spell.

“Is anyone there?” he asked amicably. There was the sound of a tiny explosion in the hallway and a shrill squeak. Tezzeret swung open the door.

“Delivery?” said a thrull with no eyes, no ears, and only a tiny round hole for a mouth. It held up a flat, round fleece-wrapped package in its puttylike hands.

“From who?” Tezzeret said sternly, glaring down at the pallid thrull. It made a whistling sound through its mouth.

“The thief, master! From the thief, the thief, the thief!”

“Why were you sneaking around out here?”

“Metal-arm, metal-arm, metal-arm! Bad, bad, bad reputation.” The thrull held out the package again.

“Well, that’s true,” Tezzeret mused as he bent down to take the delivery. The thrull thrust it towards him as if very eager to leave. “Get out of here,” Tezzeret growled at the creature. It turned its featureless face away and scurried back down the hall, running sideways using two legs and one arm as it smacked itself on the head with its other hand. Tezzeret shook his head and slammed the door shut.

“That wasn’t slightly creepy or anything,” Doc said, zinging around Tezzeret’s brain like a fly in a jar. “Open it! What is it, Tezz?”

“It’s Bolas’s business, not yours.”

“Wait, if you know what it is, then I must already know what it is, since I’m in your head.”

“Brilliant, Doc.” Tezzeret put the package on his desk and flicked open a panel on the gauntlet of his left arm. A shiny oval made of jet and surrounded by finely wrought silver stared out like a black, unblinking eye. “Bolas,” Tezzeret said to the gem. The surface flickered and a small reflection of the Elder Dragon appeared in the gauntlet.

“Lord Bolas, the evidence just arrived,” Tezzeret said in a bored voice. The dragon in the gem bulged forward as if he strained at the confines of the jewel. His excitement was palpable, the draconic energy pulsing from the gem up Tezzeret’s arm.

“Did you look at it? Unwrap it. Let me see!” The dragon’s voice was uncharacteristically charged, too. Tezzeret obediently snapped the twine and pulled back the fleece from the package. “Hold your arm up so I can get a clear view of it, you dolt,” Bolas hissed. “Push that candle closer.”

Tezzeret did as he was told. The gem began to shudder beneath the force of Bolas’s energy.

“There is no question. It is her.” The elder dragon said. “She never could be far from her collection.” The gauntlet began to shake so violently with Bolas’s wrath that Tezzeret had to clamp his etherium hand over his other arm. The dragon’s voice was hoarse. “How dare she come to this plane!”

Tezzeret had never heard his master in such a state. The notorious artificer wondered if he should feel privileged to witness the Elder Dragon having an emotional breakdown. Tezzeret knew what would happen, but he couldn’t resist. Bolas had tricked him out of years of his youth, then had enslaved him, and had implanted the equivalent of a shock collar in his brain. It was insane, but Tezzeret just had to say it.

“You’re a shit, Bolas. My father was a shit but I bet you’re a hundred times worse. I bet you’re the shittiest father in the entire Multiverse, in fact. Why in the Abyss wouldn’t she come to Ravnica?”

There was a pause. Tezzeret braced himself.

“I’m going to be predictable here,” Bolas said calmly, “And just have Doc fry your testes.”

Then the shock came. Tezzeret laughed maniacally as the smell of singed hair filled the room. When it was over, Tezzeret found that he was lying on the floor, smoke wafting from his body. The pain was so bad that for several minutes he thought the dragon might have blinded him, too.

“Sorry, boss,” Doc whispered. “I have to do it when he tells me to.”

Tezzeret chuckled hoarsely. “I know, Doc. It’s fine. I’m languishing in excruciating pain in the comfort of my own office. What more could a kid from the slum ask for?”

Tezzeret smiled up at the ceiling. You can hurt me, Bolas, but you can’t win. By enslaving me you’ve ensured you’ll never be rid of me. I’m the most dangerous pet you’ve ever owned, and when the muzzle breaks, I’ll bite the hand and eat the heart. Look forward to it.



Niv-Mizzet’s trail was easy to follow. It was obvious the dragon couldn’t fathom being the subject of surveillance and was unused to taking any kind of precaution. He was, after all, the most dominant dragon on Ravnica—the only dragon, in fact.

Tezzeret sailed behind Niv-Mizzet, riding a mechanized roc that was quadruple-cloaked and partially phased to avoid detection. The construct and its planeswalker rider tailed the great Firemind as the dragon rode winds so high above Ravnica that even Agyrem appeared to be below their vantage point.

“Are we there yet?” Doc whined.

“I’m not speaking to you at the moment,” Tezzeret said. “I’m not angry, but the fact of the matter is my reproductive capabilities may have been compromised. That’s hard to forgive a brother, Doc.”

“I uh, don’t really see you as the paternal type, Tezz,” Doc said. “And I’m not just saying that to get you to let me off easy.”

“I’m not the paternal type.” Tezzeret guided the roc in a loop as Niv-Mizzet took a sudden, steep dive through a swirling bank of clouds. A glimpse at the land told Tezzeret they were in a remote area of Utvara, near Zomaj Hauc’s dragon egg disaster site. The Firemind flew low, eyeing the ground suspiciously. Then he flew on, toward one of the Izzet water refineries. Most of Ravnica’s population didn’t even know such things existed on the overpopulated, urban plane. Daily life was so centered on the city, so narrow in scope, that few Ravnicans ever even considered the possibility that there were secrets in the corners of their world.

Only the hardiest scientists and the most foolish entrepreneurs might think to look behind what appeared to be a boring fog bank at the edges of the city reaches. Only true adventurers might scale what appeared to be a sheer, endless rock face to see what was on the other side. Ravnica’s secrets were not so much cleverly concealed as simply kept safe due to the very culture of the plane itself.

A fissure suddenly gaped up at Tezzeret. They were not quite at the refinery. The great red dragon took a nosedive and plummeted through the steam rising from the huge crack in the earth. Tezzeret looked back. The fissure seemed to connect to the Hauc crater via a long series of spidery imperfections that webbed the rocky Utvaran landscape. Niv-Mizzet had disappeared.

“Hold on, Doc.” Tezzeret directed the mechanical roc the same direction the dragon had gone—straight down. Steam rushed into the artificer’s face, but it was bearably hot.

“This stinks,” Doc noted. The fragrance of sulphur and rot grew thicker in the air the further down they flew. The only light was directly below, a yellowish green glow that did not pierce the dark that surrounded the roc as it descended.



The trip had taken hours. Tezzeret was tired of waiting on the dragon. Niv-Mizzet was languidly soaking as if this place was his personal spa. Nothing interesting had happened on this entire reconnaissance mission. Bolas could suck a cytoplast.

“This place is wonderful, Tezz! Phenomenal! How can you not be happy to be here?” Doc was buzzing excitedly in his brain, apparently overwhelmed by the natural wonder that was Ravnica’s best-kept secret—the underground sea.

“It has its uses,” Tezzeret said. He had, of course, known about the sea for years. As master of the Infinite Consortium (after he’d wrested it away from Bolas), Tezzeret had used it for specific smuggling operations that called for the highest level of security. Only about five people on the plane’s topside probably knew about the existence of the sea, and all of them wanted to keep it a secret for their own reasons. Tezzeret took a moment to once again vehemently curse the planeswalker who had taken the Consortium from him... that damnable pouting asshat Jace Beleren. Foolish boy had signed his own funeral documents with that move. Tezzeret never forgets.

In the immediate vacinity, slick black rock gave way to chartreuse water eerily lit from its depths. The roc clung to a stalactite that gave Tezzeret a good vantage point from which to spy on Niv-Mizzet and his bird bath. The dragon was now floating on his back in a seaweed-heavy area of the lagoon. Miles ahead, Tezzeret could see the point where the cavelike structures ended and the ceiling rose to invisible heights. There, the water changed from swamplike to hues of blue and gray, and even pink where the strange zonot lights reflected off the surface.

Tezzeret flew the roc down to the shore and parked it behind a stand of natural columns. Niv-Mizzet was snoring. Tezzeret left the roc cloaked but phased himself back in. There was no way that bloated red lizard was going to notice him now.

“Voyeurism seems to ill suit you, stranger.”

A dozen spells came to Tezzeret’s mind in an instant, and his non-etherium hand closed around the spike he wore on his belt. The interloper had spoken from directly behind him, from within the shadows of the sea stone.

“But it seems to suit you perfectly,” Tezzeret said as adrenaline tingled in his muscles, preparing him for a response to whatever the sneak might do.

“Not so much suits as serves. My particular blessing prevents me taking part in most face-to-face activities.” There was the sound of fabric sliding over sand. Tezzeret tensed. “Oh, don’t bother turning around, stranger. You’d regret it, you see. And I mean you no harm… not yet, at least.” The voice was deep and haunting, definitely not human.

What is it?” Doc hissed in a panic. “Turn around so I can see!”

“Shut up, Doc.” Tezzeret replied. The sliding steps had stopped just behind the artificer. He could feel the thing’s breath on his shoulder.

“I sense two, though I see only one,” the voice said. “And just now, did you speak to it?”

“That’s my ‘blessing.’” Tezzeret shrugged with a chuckle. “I don’t get much alone time these days.” Tezzeret stiffened as a silky tendril—of scales—slid gently under his cloak, over his left shoulder and curled around his tricep. The touch was light and soft, a caress.

“You have a whisper of the infinite about you,” said the voice.

“And I think I’ve heard of you,” Tezzeret replied. Another scaled tentacle touched him, traveling up the side of his neck and making itself comfortable in his hair. The mysterious visitor was so close behind him now that he could feel its body press up against his back. It felt like a female. Tezzeret was surprised to find himself grinning.

“What’s this all about,” he said, as more tendrils availed themselves of his body. He breathed deeply as one strung itself languidly around his neck and draped down over his chest… while another writhed against his lower back before snaking around to gracefully encircle his waist.

“Nothing,” the voice said. The tentacles pulled Tezzeret closer to her. He laughed againunconcerned with his welfare. Doc, either she’s groping me… or this is the weirdest assassination attempt I’ve ever had the pleasure of enduring…

Fry her! Doc panted. Tezzeret’s pleasure was increased even more by the anxiety in Doc’s voice. He leaned back into the interloper’s embrace and felt Doc squirming around in a panic inside the confines of his brain.

“Your friend doesn’t like me,” the voice said, stroking Tezzeret’s cheek, this time with a handa green, clawed, serpentine handbut humanoid nonetheless.

Tezzeret turned his face toward her voice but didn't look back. “It’s fine. We’re not really friends.”

“Are we friends?” the voice said, with a soft puff of breath near his ear. She smelled like roots of ivy freshly pulled from the earth. Charcoal-rich black sand… and a chemical Tezzeret didn’t recognize. Even a little fried maize, perhaps…

“Depends. What else can you do with these?” Tezzeret nodded toward the nearest tentacle. He felt Doc cowering in the recesses of his mind. A glance up told him Niv-Mizzet would probably be napping for hours.

“Close your eyes and I’ll show you,” she said.

“Make it worth my while. I’m a working man.” Tezzeret unsnapped the communication gauntlet from his forearm and dropped it into the dark, lapping waters of the underground shore. Bolas’s jet gem gleamed malevolently up from its soggy position on the ground. Tezzeret put his heel down on the gauntlet and pressed until he heard a satisfying pop. Dark shards and sparkling ebony dust scattered across the wet rock.

“Oh, dear,” said the voice, “Was it wise to waste such a valuable jewel? At the very least we could have sold it, or perhaps you could have carved my likeness into it as a memento of this tryst.”

Tezzeret laughed. “I can buy you better trinkets.” The artificer tapped his skull. “And I’ll carve your face into the Forum of Azor if you can keep the voice in my head quiet.”

Paper-dry lips brushed against Tezzeret’s jaw as she breathed her words into his skin. “Ravnica does deserve a new monument.”

Tezzeret held up a snaking tendril in his hand and let it run through his fingers, watching the inches of perfect scales traverse his palm in a green-and-orange diamondback pattern. “I’ve always been attracted to ambitious women,” he mused, closing his eyes.
_______________

...to be continued in Chapter 12: Self-Esteem


Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction
#RIRfic