Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Retribution in Ravnica 13: Over the Mountain


Venser was walking in the desert.

Shiv, he thought to himself, as his eyes blurred with heat-induced tears. He rubbed his palms against his face and blinked, squinting at the arid landscape. Better watch out for basilisks.

The wind rose and flung sand through his hair. Venser reached up and brushed it out. He remembered something Liliana had said on Mirrodin.

“Unngh. I adore Jor’s hair. It’s soft as a mink’s ass!” She’d laughed, leaning back on her piece of rock like it was a throne. Venser had been a zombie then, reanimated from the bowels of Mirrodin-slash-New Phyrexia by one of the necromancer’s selfishly handy spells.

Venser idly scrunched a handful of his own hair, and decided it felt like… hair. He couldn’t remember if anyone else had ever touched his scalp. He shrugged to himself. Doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The artificer took a step forward and found himself on the edge of an oasis. A still pool of black water was in front of him, reflecting the harsh sun back up into the sky. Ahead, he saw some low mountains casting a thin blade of shade before them. He looked down into the water and felt dizzy. The artificer knelt, to steady himself, and watched the heat waves draw steam up into the chartreuse-tinted horizon.

He remembered something he’d thought right after he’d discovered he was a planeswalker, right after they’d finally closed all the Rifts. Everyone was going somewhere else… returning home, or off to pursue some new expedition or agenda. He’d felt powerful, hopeful.

It will be a good life.

“It will be a good life.” Venser grinned, quoting himself aloud to the hot, black water. Then he laughed.

The ground shook, sending ripples through the oasis. The water swirled, tossed, congealed—Venser was looking down at a fresco. He peered closer. It was Elspeth.

She stood in a temple. Behind her, a humongous satyr was shown falling from the heavens. In front of her was a winding road that culminated at a tree under which a man sat, waiting. The temple itself was ornate and large, decorated in symbols of death. The figure of Elspeth held a mask in one hand, and in the other she clutched a blade—a blade that was piercing her own heart. The face in the fresco was looking upward, an expression of fatigue and pain etched into the stone that was as raw and immediate as if Elspeth had been standing in front of Venser right there, in the flesh.

Venser furrowed his brow. It appeared that she hadn’t found the peace she desperately sought. Perhaps my sacrifice didn’t make the least difference. Koth had still been fighting the Phyrexians when Venser encountered him, and now it looked like Elspeth had simply moved from strife on her home plane to strife on Mirrodin to strife on yet another plane.

Damn this world. A guy can literally donate his entire heart and it doesn’t even matter.

“It will be a good life,” Venser said again, and laughed. The fresco crumbled.

Two dunes behind the oasis rose in height and sand fell away from them until Venser found himself staring at two huge, green eyes. The artificer looked up and realized night had fallen. He shivered, noticing how beautiful the violet stars were in the black sky.

The artificer looked back down at the desert, met the oversized draconic eyes in the sand.

“Bolas. It’s been awhile,” he said. “Why have you shown this to me?”

A voice answered from everywhere, and nowhere.

“Little artificer. I want you to get your ass off Ravnica and go to Theros.”

“This is a dream, isn’t it,” Venser said. The giant emerald eyes cast Venser’s reflection back at him. He was an elongated, pale, incidental blemish on the dragon’s ebony irises.

Like the rest of your hopes for your life, yes.”

Venser was sure he heard mockery in Bolas’s monotoned reply. But, like so much else… it didn’t really matter.
________________


“Next.” Gideon Jura, disguised as the cleric Ar-Alan, exercised extreme discipline as he set down his pen and folded his hands in front of his face. He wanted to break something, but didn’t. An ex-mercenary thug turned planeswalking man of God, Gideon was military by nature and followed (for better or worse) a passionately righteous, somewhat eccentric moral compass. Shifting his weight in the unforgiving chair, Gideon wondered if his back was about to go into another spasm. Decades of fighting had begun to take their toll on the planeswalker, and at the moment all Gideon could wonder was why in the Abyss Lieutenant Reed had brought him such a damnable hard chair… and what kind of new cretin would next step up to volunteer for service in the Order of Heliud.

Gideon had been posted on Ravnica for some time now. His last major assignment had been to investigate the Purifying Fire of Regatha… an assignment that had gone somewhat awry due to the involvement of a fiery walker named Chandra. Needless to say, Gideon’s employer was less than pleased at the destruction of one of his major temples and Chandra’s escape. The truth was that Gideon had let her go. In fact, Gideon had followed the fire mage to Zendikar, where it looked like she had stumbled upon another magical relic of immense power. The girl was like a magnet for artifacts… and for trouble. Gideon smiled behind his clasped hands and it seemed his headache ebbed just a little.

His smile faded as thoughts of Chandra melted into thoughts of the Eldrazi. The Aether-powered titans of destruction had wreaked havoc on Zendikar, and now were possibly loose in the multiverse. Gideon had meant to find allies on Ravnica, walkers interested in re-containing the Eldrazi threat… but all that had happened was him getting embroiled in another petty political mess so common to the city-covered plane.

Then Gideon’s employer had contacted him, forbidding him from leaving Ravnica until the “Jace situation” was handled. And so here he was, undercover as a cleric, recruiting for The Order.

Next,” Gideon snapped, his head still resting in his hands.

“Apologies, honored Ar-Alan.” Lieutenant Reed’s crisp voice came from directly in front of him. “We had a little trouble containing this volunteer. He is so eager to work for The Order of Heliud that he cut in line and we had to quell some squabbles.”

Gideon clenched his jaw to hold back a scalding reply to the Lieutenant, who had been nothing but dutiful since he began his stay at Independence Crown, the official building of Ravnica’s guildless citizens. As a career soldier, Gideon could smell insubordination and Reed stank of it. She hates my guts. She’d dutifully slit my throat in the night, I bet, if she wasn’t white-aligned. Gideon’s anger gave way to mirth and he chuckled silently. Reed reminded him of himself, and he had to admit he was fond of the soldier despite the annoyingly subtle ways she undermined him. Lieutenant Reed had conviction, and that was a quality Gideon could always appreciate, even in his enemies.

A disheveled old man fell to his knees in front of the recruitment desk.

“What is he doing” Gideon raised an eyebrow.

“I think he’s kissing your feet, sir,” Lieutenant Reed said helpfully, making no move to stop the volunteer. Over near the hall entrance, some young volunteers were snickering and pointing from the waiting area. The old man was blubbering and rubbing his head on Gideon’s boots under the desk. The snuffling noises were punctuated by outbursts of “sir!” and “please” and “your godliness.”

“Get up, if you would be part of The Order,” Gideon said calmly, his low voice carrying far across the hall. The other would-be Heliud recruits quieted and shifted uncomfortably in line. “No man bows to another here unless it is his superior officer. You are not part of our ranks, so there is no need for—and you have no right toyour current behavior.” The snuffling stopped.

A head popped up over Gideon’s desk. It was so sudden that Gideon, a seasoned warrior and veteran of all kinds of awful battles, jumped back in his seat and tipped over his flagon of mead.

“Well howdy-dowdy CLERIC Arlane!” The old man was beaming at Gideon over the edge of the desk with a battered grin and matted hair sticking out in multiple directions. Reed snapped her fingers for the custodian to clean up the mead. Gideon looked at the volunteer in front of him. Silently, he brought a righteous curse down upon Nicol Bolas.

Gideon cleared his throat. “Stand up. Your name?”

“Damir, yer godliness. That’s said like dame, ya know, like a sassy lady, and myr, one of dem little mechanical birdies wit’the big heads, kinda cute—”

“That’s enough.” Gideon blinked, a deep furrow forming in his brow as Dimir’s words sunk in. The old man stood in a posture that could only be described as a caricature of “at attention.”
Turning his scrutiny away from Damir, Gideon motioned to Lieutenant Reed.

“Sir?” the Lieutenant stepped forward with alacrity.

“Reed, I thought I saw someone in line flash a knife. Go check it out.”

“Sir, we already patted every single inch of every one of them down for weapons.”

“Do it again, then, Lieutenant.” Gideon smiled at the young soldier. She returned his look with an icy nod, and walked briskly away. When she was on the other side of the hall, Gideon turned back to the old man in front of him.

Gideon lowered his voice. “Damir. Where did you see the mechanical bird?”

“Permission to speak, sir Cleric sir?”

“Damir, I just asked you a question. You don’t need to—nevermind. Yes, Damir. Permission to speak. And speak quietly, that’s an order.”

“Well I was doin’ my magic, sir, and in one of tha holes, this little bird appeared. It looked at me and turned its head like this—” Damir cocked his head to one side and crossed his eyes. “—And I was curious, never havin’ seen one of dem before, so I just asked it congenially like, ‘hey birdie, now what’re you called, huh?’ and the thing kinda made a clicky-beeping noise, but in mah head I heard the word myr, just like that! Ain’t it something? None of that rabble believes me, o’ course.” Damir waved a dismissive hand back at the line of volunteers.

“Of course not,” Gideon said. “Congratulations, Damir. You’re officially part of the Gateless militia of The Order of Heliud.”
_______________


Liliana looked at the object in her hand.

That little shit!” She flung the bit of cloak away. It hit the far wall of Venser’s flat, where it tumbled placidly and flaccidly to the ground.

The artificer’s floor of the apartment building was empty. And not just empty of his personal effects—which were minimal anyway—but of his essence. And that meant he had ’walked somewhere.

The emptiness and the bit of blue fabric told Liliana more than enough. Sometimes, when planeswalkers were in a hurry, or careless, or distracted while trying to enter the Blind Eternities... a shoe could be left behind, or a lock of hair or piece of clothing severed when the portal into the Aether closed behind them. It was obvious that Venser had made a sudden decision to leave, but that it had been a well-thought-out and deliberate one. He may have had things on his mind, but there was no foul play. The room was clean and tidy; the artificer’s fancy mechanical toothbrush with the chiming clock on top and the wind-up whirring feature was gone. Liliana had always speculated the toothbrush could make a very, very fun toy but had never gotten around to being able to swipe it without her housemate noticing. She scowled, realizing that now she might never get to test her theory… maybe she’d ask Ral to mock one up for her. 

Yes, all of Venser’s intimate items were gone. And the bit of cloak on the floor was from the one Liliana had given him.

The necromancer put the fingers of her left hand to her temple and exhaled slowly. Her thoughts went to Bolas. Either he’d be royally pissed that she’d managed to lose their in-house builder, or… considering his unfounded accusations that Venser was a distraction to her—the great dragon would be relieved that the artificer was out of the picture.

“And now he’ll have every reason to make me work with Tezzeret,” Liliana said, her tongue dripping with disgust as she rolled her eyes and imagined trying to actually complete a mission with the metal-armed lunatic. The last time she’d run into etherium-for-brains they’d almost dueled to the death. The other agent had near-limitless access to annoying relics, and one of Liliana’s Rules To Live By was Do not to work with idiots who A) actively want to harm you and B) have a natural advantage if it comes down to a duel.

A half-dozen different scenarios of working with Tezzeret flashed through her mind, and the necromancer gagged. “Over my dead body,” Liliana said, and immediately cringed at her own choice of words.

Decision made, Liliana summoned the rusalka she’d assigned to spy on Venser. “Do a better job watching the building than you did watching the artificer,” she said coldly. “Or I’ll wrap you up in a big bow and ship you to Szadek.” The specter blinked its eye sockets once, then bowed low. Liliana nodded curtly and the spirit vanished back into the air.

“Souls are so lazy these days.” Liliana grumbled to herself as she slammed the door to Venser’s floor and stomped up the stairs to her own.

Liliana wasn’t a mind-mage and had never aspired to stretch her talents in that direction, but over the course of her long and selfish life she’d picked up more than a few useful tricks from the blue-balled brain trust.

Liliana was a cerberus, but she could imitate a bird dog if she needed to.
_____________


Kallist made no show of hiding his dislike of the Blood Baron, and neither did Biggs or Murdock, but their host seemed to weather their disgust and disdain with something akin to glee.

“I take both pride and pleasure in my work, so the opinions of others serve as nothing more than entertainment,” said Lourdes of Vizkopa, answering Kallist’s thoughts as though she could hear them--not the first time she’d done such since they’d become “acquainted.”

Kallist nodded. “Just take us to the door.”

“Tsk, rushing from task to task--a sign of low breeding.” The baron was mincing through her gratuitously long “parlor” at a snail’s pace, and Kallist was getting nervous. Biggs was fidgety, and Murdock looked on the verge of a murderous rage. Kallist could empathize with his team. The spectral assassin didn’t have a stomach to turn, but if he did, it would be doing pirouettes. The cages in Kallist’s peripheral vision held horrors that would make a swiftblade weep, or give the most hardened justiciar relentless nightmares.

“The door,” Kallist repeated mechanically. He needed to get his team out of here as soon as possible.

The baron pouted. “Lord Teysa didn’t warn me that you three would be so dreadfully boring.” They’d finally reached the iron-barred egress at the north end of the parlor. The baron slid a skeletal hand into the spotless white sleeve of her silk tunic and produced a ring of keys. The keys appeared twisted and misshapen to the naked eye, carved from bone.

Human, Kallist noted.

Lourdes put a monocle to her left eye and peered at the keys. Kallist knew from Teysa’s description that through the right filter the keys appeared in their true form - finely crafted holy relics (still carved from human bone) from Orzhov’s ancient history.

“The only reason I permit the baron to exist is to the ensure the keys are under my control and not the Obzedat’s. Lourdes hates the Obzedat at least as much as I do, as to why… I have no idea.” Teysa had brushed aside Murdock’s concerns about trusting a known sadist, suspected necrophiliac and convicted organ smuggler with the success of the mission.

“You’re dead and kill people for a living, and I trust you,” the Grand Envoy had said with bored nonchalance, and that had been the end of the discussion.

Kallist had had more confidence in Teysa’s assertion before he met the Blood Baron of Vizkopa in person. Now he wished that offing Lourdes was also part of the mission, but Teysa had specifically forbid it.

“If anything happens to the baron, the Obzedat will know something’s up,” she’d said, without explanation.

In life, Kallist had always hated the extreme opacity of Orzhov jobs. After death, he was nonplussed to find out that his corporeal status did nothing to change the annoyance factor of working with the Syndicate.

What also hadn’t changed was that Kallist was an experienced professional. The bone key clicked deep within the iron door, and a suffocating silence emanated from the passage beyond.

“Godspeed, hirelings. I almost hope the Council wins… I wouldn’t mind having you three as attendants for my caged darlings. Especially you, with your heroic stoicism!” Lourdes of Vizkopa stroked a clawed nail across what once had been Kallist’s jaw.

Kallist glided past her without a word, grateful that he couldn’t feel. Professional. It was simply an order of operations problem. After they took out the Obzedat, they could come back and deal with the Blood Baron.

Let’s do this he signed to Biggs and Murdock. The passage was black around them, but up ahead it was filled with a thick grey fog, the walls and floor undulating like a disturbed pond.

You sure you don’t wanna go on a date with the baron first? Biggs signed back, punctuating his statement with rapid thrusting motions.

I have to admit, your children would be beautiful Murdock chimed in.

Fuck you both sideways Kallist signed back, shaking his head. Teysa’d better make good on her end of this deal.

The three assassins disappeared into the unnatural fog.
_____________


Venser rubbed his nose. Theros was unsettlingly pungent to him, which seemed strange considering he’d grown up in a swamp and had just come from the dirtiest plane in the  multiverse. Theros smelled like a heady mix of too-green herbs, roasting meats, and blood on metal. The breeze from the east brought a floral bouquet that slapped him in the face with sweetness, then when the wind changed direction he was assaulted with a greasy smokiness. The sky seemed low, heavy, and overbearing. The artificer felt its nearness like a yoke.

If Elspeth really was here, and Bolas wasn’t just jerking his chain yet again, Venser wasn’t sure the prospect of staying on this plane appealed to him. But perhaps he’d just get used to it, as he had with Windgrace’s gladehunter mark and Liliana’s various forms of abuse.

Kneeling down in the thigh-high golden grass, Venser opened his pack. He’d brought only the essentials: a bit of food, his journal, a tracer, two homemade spellbombs, and his toothbrush.

That’s just what I was looking for!” snapped a voice behind him.

Venser leaped to his left and spun, nearly pissing himself in surprise. “What do y--” He stopped, in shock and some amount of horror, as he recognized his housemate squatting down to rummage in his things. Liliana’s pale wrist darted down like a viper, her slender fingers brushing aside a croissant and the tracer, before she plucked his toothbrush decisively from the pack.

“I’m borrowing this,” she announced as she stood up, glaring at him as she stuffed the artifact snugly into the black leather bodice she was wearing. She crossed her arms and stared derisively at him from beneath the heavy black cloak that covered her head and swirled from her shoulders down to her ankles. Venser felt his pulse quicken.

“What are you doing here,” he said flatly, running his hand through his hair. Liliana smirked. She flicked a grasshopper from her arm and sighed deeply.

“I really thought we were friends, Venser. And then you abandon me, just like that.”

Venser made sure he had several defensive spells in mind before he continued. “I’m not sure what I am to you, Lil, but you have plenty of other friends.” He raised an eyebrow at her.

Liliana laughed. “Oh, so this is about Ral?”

Venser shrugged. “I don’t know, is it?”

“Fine. I’ll lock my door next time, okay? I admit, that was an awkward moment.” Liliana shook off her hood. “Ugh, I don’t remember it being this hot last time I was on Theros.” She pulled her hair up into a sloppy bun on top of her head and fanned herself with her other hand while she waited for Venser’s reply. He just stared at her. After a few moments of silence she was visibly annoyed.

“What?” the necromancer asked peevishly, shifting her weight under his gaze.

“Why are you here, Lil?”

She tried to look contrite, which almost made the artificer laugh out loud. “To apologize! And I just did. Now let’s go home and get back to work, shall we?”

Venser gave her a strange look. “Home. To Ravnica.”

“Yes - that’s what I just said. Let’s get back to Ravnica and finish the job.” Liliana’s eyes were wide and full of appeal, her lips parted in a delicate smile. She was oblivious to her slip - or had it been? Venser looked away from her and shook his head.

“I’m not going back. I have something to do here.” He moved toward his pack and began putting things in various pockets on his person, glancing up just in time to see the veneer of Liliana’s sweetness melt away into an unflattering scowl. This time Venser did laugh, and had the satisfaction of watching his housemate’s glare freeze over into a dangerous squint.

“What are you talking about,” Liliana said in clipped syllables. Venser shrugged and hurriedly scooped up the rest of his things. He shrugged again as he stood up, looking down at her from his greater height. He enjoyed watching her have to crane her neck to maintain eye contact, which she did, defiantly.

“Just business,” he said easily.

“You don’t have business,” she retorted.

“You just assumed that.” Venser grinned. Liliana was silent a moment as she stared up at him. A droplet of sweat inspired by the Theros sun coursed down her left temple. Venser felt his finger twitch and put his hand in his pocket.

Suddenly Liliana dropped her gaze and licked her lips. “This reeks of dragon.” Venser thought he heard her mutter. The necromancer viciously stomped some unlucky barley stalks, her brow furrowed.

“So what do you have to do here?” she finally said.

“I’m not entirely sure. I just had a dream.”

“Why not finish Ravnica with me first, then come back here? I could help you.”

“No.”

“So it’s urgent.”

“I don’t know.”

“Bolas’s sweltering balls!” Liliana flung up her hands in exasperation. “Fine. Which way are we headed on this backwater plane?”

Venser winced. “We?”

“Are you saying you don’t want me to come?”

“Well I--”

“Which way?” Liliana said decisively, striding forward and looking around pointedly in all directions. Venser felt his control of the situation sliding through his fingers towards the worst possible scenario.

“Lil, I really don’t think you w--”

“You really don’t want me to come, do you?” Liliana gave him a salacious wink. “My, my, how selfish of you, Venser. I never would’ve figured you for the type of man who puts his own needs before his lady’s.” She was putting her arm through his arm. Venser gritted his teeth and shook her off. Liliana growled and kicked him in the back of his knee, bringing him down to her height. Venser yelped, caught off guard, as his left leg buckled and his right knee hit the ground, hard.

Liliana slung an arm around his shoulders and leaned over to whisper in his ear, pressing her breasts into his chin as she did so.

“You’re taking me with you. I decide when we part ways. Besides, Vense, what would I do back on Ravni all alone? Without you to barge into my room?” her breath was hotter than the sun on his neck. “I mean, a girl gets lonely. I’d have to go crawling back to that awful Izzet m--”

Venser whirled. “Shut. Up.” He grabbed Liliana roughly, digging his fingers into her arms as he stood up, lifting her off the ground. She cursed and tried to bite him, but Venser tightened his grip and she squealed in pain. The world was bending all around the artificer. This is not supposed to happen, he thought, but he didn’t care. All he could think of was Liliana. He wanted to shake her until her teeth chattered, until she begged him to stop… But instead, he pulled her close as the Theros landscape became striated with lines of blue. I think she just spat on me mused Venser as the world began to fracture around them. Venser wrapped his arms tighter around Liliana, and for a moment he thought he felt her lips on his neck. Then everything broke into blinding whiteness and they were gone.

______________


...Book 1 to be concluded in Chapter 14: The Bluest Line

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What Is



Alright so I've done a shitty job of keeping up Retribution this month, but I'm fine with that b/c a weekly fanfic post was extremely ambitious. I've learned that posting a novel-length story in serial fashion is a pretty dumb big grind. Also, I've decided to add some plot twists and that means changing/shuffling/rewrites. Retribution in Ravnica was envisioned as having 3 acts, and right now Book 1 is nearly done, and I have a couple of Book 2's chapters written. This fanfic has like a GoT size ensemble cast, and that's another lesson I've learned: maybe keep web fanfics simpler and shorter. So my new goal is to finish the one or two remaining chapters in Book 1, which gives us a nice resting point. With the PT, GP, family expansion and preschool all in the immediate future, it's likely I will have to take a break from Ravnica updates for awhile to get a backstock of chapters written again before I start posting Book 2. I really appreciate everyone who's been reading my fiction and keeping up with the doings of Liliana, Venser, and Bolas.

In the meantime, you can enjoy all the cosplay work I've been pouring myself into. With two big events in Portland this August, it was a great excuse to work out my costuming muscles again. And a great excuse to get a new camera, get back into photography. I'll be doing Marchesa the Black Rose for GP Portland, and am at this very moment wracking my brain for what I want to trot out to the PT NEXT WEEKEND. Got the opportunity to attend last minute, so this yeah, omg! Very excited for the coming month's MTG activities...


I'll also be turning out a bunch of visual art... more new tokens for Brew Box, plus some lands for Gathering Magic's "We Make the Plane" project that's going on right now. At my age it's just painfully obvious that you never get better unless you just go out and do it. Griseldamned, just fraggin' do it. It feels good to see myself improve in areas where I've historically just taken my "natural" talent for granted and not put any time or rigor into it as a discipline.

And lastly, I'm considering starting a small shop on Etsy or StoreEnvy or something to hawk some of my creative spawnages. This could range from like alters and tokens to cosplay glossies to 'walker-inspired accessories to Guild wedding dresses. If there's anything you really want, let me know.

True riches are found in the mazes of the mind,
-MJ

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