Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Return to Argentum : 1

Liliana didn’t care whether she died or lived, at the moment. The wounds Garruk had inflicted gaped and bled as if they enjoyed it. Festering as though they reveled in her pain.

“Pig-shit-smelling meathead,” Liliana hissed under her breath, pressing her right hand tightly against a nifty diagonal cut along her left ribs. She didn’t care if she lived or died, but she did care about how she looked as she did either. Liliana knew she looked like crap.

“Well, bleeding out for 36 hours will do that to a girl!” she shouted, or tried to shout, at a leering group of crows. It came out more like the spitting hiss of a fatally injured cat. One crow turned its head sideways and eyeballed her. Liliana didn’t even have the energy to disembowel it. Her mana stores were as shredded as her garments. All she could do was glare.

The crows laughed raucously at her predicament. Liliana lifted her chin and stalked passed them. Well, more like stumbled. But in her mind, she flounced off like a highborn lady; jewels tinkling and fine fabric rustling.

“I am a highborn lady…” Liliana thought deliriously. Where am I? The horizon shone like platinum. The craggy formations she saw on her left and right sparkled like diamonds.

The battle had been rather anticlimactic.

The Helvault split like an overripe melon. The angel and the demon spewed forth, swatting at each other and casting white light and shadows across Innistrad. The effect had made Liliana think of dance parties from a plane she once accidentally landed on while ‘walking drunk. It was a silly plane full of underskilled and self-centered humanoids, but they had fabulous parties. They had invented drinks that tasted like anything you could think of. The flash-dark-flash-dark of Avacyn and Griselbrand’s feud was just like the lighting effects those lush humanoids adored. So, as the scions of Good and Evil raged upward into the sky, and as Sorin’s pedophilial laugh rolled across the plain, and as Garruk’s unmistakable rancid crotch-sweat stench reached her nose indicating his proximity…all Liliana could think of was that she wanted to dance.

Art by Allen Michael Geneta
Sorin turned towards her and winked mockingly. Even with the Chain Veil she hadn’t been able to stop his goddamned politicking that ensured all the peasants were on his side and got in her way. Tibalt? He hadn’t even been at the battle. He had promised her his support, then vanished. Liliana had kept her part of the bargain—clearing the way for the devils and demons to make their play. Tibalt in turn was to help her deal with Garruk so she could undermine Sorin’s plans and use the Chain Veil to take Innistrad for herself. All Tibalt wanted, supposedly, was the underworld. It had seemed a good alliance at the time.

But it all fell through. So here she was, being mocked by Sorin, with Garruk approaching too fast, and with no allies and no army. Liliana sighed. Pulling off the Veil, she bowed her head to Sorin in what she hoped was a contrite and humble pose.

“Here. Take the Veil. Without it I am no threat to you, and I must surrender this field anyway. I would rather you take it, than that green monstrosity we know is coming.”

Sorin looked at her dubiously. He was suspicious.

“Please,” Liliana said, raising her violet eyes to meet his golden ones, not without duress. They shone like wet amethysts. Liliana knew this because she was making herself cry.

“As you wish,” Sorin intoned in that annoying overdramatic way he had. She threw the Veil to him just as thundering hooves and a cloud of dust announced the arrival of a certain bestial foe. Sorin shoved the Veil beneath his wolf-trimmed cloak and half-bowed to her before ‘walking away in a shroud of darkness.

“Catch you later, bloodsucking skrathead,” Liliana had muttered to herself as she drew all the mana she could stand into herself. She whirled around to see Garruk dismounting some smelly animal and leering at her like a guy at a bar. The curse she’d given him was making him sicker and sicker, and clearly was taking its toll on his mental faculties.

Her hands pulsing with black fire, Liliana faced the rival Planeswalker and his horde. Yes, it was a horde. Er, herd. It was a lot of goddamned animals. Liliana saw beasts of all sizes and shapes, bulging with green mana, hundreds and hundreds surrounding her.

“There will be a lot of shit in this field tomorrow morning,” she thought to herself. And smiled because she wouldn’t be the one to clean it up, either way.

“So. The slut-witch is cornered,” Garruk grinned. He flexed his hands suggestively and Liliana couldn’t help but notice the ridiculously phallic steel blades attached to his knuckles.

“Asshole,” Liliana murmured. She felt cold sweat crawl down her left temple.

It wasn’t much of a fight. Liliana couldn’t mutilate the green horde fast enough. Kill one wolf, and there was some cow chewing on her leg. Kill the cow, and there were three baloths sitting on top of her. It was a goddamned circus. Garruk only had to gesture and a new wave of reeking creatures was hemming her in on all sides. Eventually, she tired. The black mana stores in the land around her waned.

Finally Garruk was standing over her, and she was bleeding from several places.

“Remove the curse,” he demanded.

“Fuck you,” Liliana said without thinking. It had been a ridiculously stupid thing to do given the circumstances. The idiot didn’t realize she couldn’t lift the curse without the Veil. The Veil that Sorin had just ‘walked away with. Liliana sneered at him, glad she couldn’t reverse the spell.

“Damned witch!” Garruk had howled, and thrust his clawed fist straight into her abdomen. Liliana bit her tongue in fear and waited to feel the pain of green mana ripping through her flesh…

But it never happened. There was a shimmering in the air between her and Garruk. A blue-hooded figure materialized and Garruk’s blow glanced away harmlessly.

“Jace?” Liliana remembered whispering. She had hated how it came out trembling and weak. The cloaked mage turned his head slightly but said nothing. The air rippled with blue mana. Garruk seemed paralyzed. The cloaked mage held out his hand and suddenly Liliana felt a surge of black mana course through her.

“Leave,” said a voice in her head. Liliana knew the voice too well. So well. She would have recognized the slope of the shoulders…the stubborn profile…anywhere…even if she was dead…

Liliana ‘walked away.

And now this.

Lost and barely alive in some metallic shithole in god-knows-where. The crows flew from tree to silvery tree, dogging Liliana’s progress.

Liliana reached out willfully with her mind, searching for even a tiny bit of mana, listening carefully for the shiver that would tell her it was there; the familiar, dark tingling at the back of her neck and the base of her spine. But it was no use. There seemed to be nothing vibrant about this plane at all. It was as though the mana was overtaxed and drawn so thin as to be unusable. Liliana wondered what phenomenon or force would have caused such a draught.

In between the rocks that shone like opal and the blades of grass that appeared to be steel (which she avoided as best she could, though some cut her ankles nevertheless), Liliana noticed black liquid seeping in oily patterns.

“I’m the Little Merfolk Princess,” Liliana told the crows, who turned to her voice with skeptical beady stares. “I have sold my tongue, my voice, for love, and now must walk on knives.” As she said this, she tripped on a beautiful blue stone and fell, putting her hand down in a patch of the knifelike grass. The blades easily parted her skin and she cried out in a barrage of swearing so bad that the crows flew away.

“I’m sorry, Jace,” Liliana said as she swayed to her feet again. Everything hurt so badly. She just wanted to go to sleep. She forced herself to put one foot in front of the other, to look at the horizon and its blinding, treasure-like light. Walk. Walk. Walk. You will find somewhere to rest. You’ll find someone. The mana has to be there, eventually. I’m sorry, Josu. Walk. Walk...

Suddenly the ground beneath her disappeared.

Liliana fell, and fell, and slid down something moist and disgusting. Even in her compromised state she cringed and tried not to touch it. It was a long way down. It smelled like blood and things you didn’t want to think about.

“Stale flensed skin,” she said to herself as she slid down, down, down…then she laughed maniacally because she actually knew what that smelled like.

“Very bad person,” Liliana muttered. Her butt hit something solid and she stopped. She realized she wasn’t falling anymore.

There was a great deal of empty space around her. Dark, but with some ambient light from the sphincter-hole she’d just ridden down. It was a large chamber. She could feel the negative depth and breadth and sensed more holes along the walls, plus some kind of large structure opposite form where she was sitting.

The exciting thing was that she sensed black mana near the structure.  Naturally occurring? Stored there? Dispersed from a battle? She wasn’t sure, but there was definitely power.

Liliana dragged herself across the floor, leaving beautiful and poignant bloody streaks across the ground. She glanced back and smiled at the aesthetically pleasing result.

Reaching forward, her hands grasped something spiny and solid. Cold metal. She reached higher, and focused her eyes on what appeared to be a grand throne. It, like the natural scapes above, seeped with the oily black substance. Looking up, Liliana saw that the throne was huge and its apex culminated high above her. It had been made of various melted metal components—swords, shields, skulls…? And it had been artistically decorated with spikes and tentacle-like structures.

The throne pulsed with black mana. Liliana almost cried with relief. She took a deep breath, putting her fingertips to the metal and letting the ecstasy of the magic flow through her body.

“Oh god, thank god,” she gasped as the dark power invigorated her and the bleeding from her wounds slowed. The pain diminished to a point where she could recognize it as pain and not her entire existence.

Staggering to her feet, Liliana took a step to her left.

And tripped again.

“Mother-fragging shet-ridden stinking goats!” she spat as she landed on something bony.
It had an odd texture, so Liliana murmured words and an eerie cold light appeared at her shoulder, illuminating the scene with ghastly radiance.

It was a man.

Er, it had been a man. The skull twisted uncomfortably to the side. The torso was face down on the floor, the legs bent and angled as though the owner had not been quite ready to go. Liliana put out her hand to feel the armor that covered the shoulders and chest of the corpse. It was cool to the touch, smooth, lovingly crafted and fine, made of some kind of compound she was not familiar with but that was obviously quality. It reminded her simultaneously of the porcelain on her family’s estate, and the grass that had lacerated her hand above ground in this strange place.

A partially decayed cloak swept across the floor, affixed to the corpse’s shoulders with beautiful clasps, also carefully crafted. The skull was narrowish and thoughtful, as opposed to round. Liliana had seen many dead and decayed bodies. She could deduce much from a skeleton. Strangely, this skull still had hair on one side. It was minx brown and lush. The finger bones of the corpse were long and competent. Its feet, clad in simple brown leather boots, were rather large.

“Who are you,” Liliana smiled to herself, feeling less lonely. Giddy with curiosity, she put her palms beneath the body and rolled him over into a more natural state of recline.

The strange black oil was smeared in uneven striations across his body and what remained of his face. Indeed, the fact that part of his face remained at all was astonishing. Liliana stared hard at her new friend. Skin remained on the parts of the corpse that had been in contact with the black oil. These parts hadn’t seemed to have decayed at all—they were just corrupted.

Liliana ran her fingers across his mouth. He’d had nice lips. They were pensive, too self-conscious, but soft and kind. He had been pale in complexion, probably from time spent indoors rather than out. Circles had been a permanent fixture under his eyes. The darkness there wasn’t from the viscous ebony corruptant, but simply from fatigue and strain.

“Should have slept more, my friend, before you had to sleep permanently,” Liliana grinned down at her grisly companion. The black depths of a gaping right eye socket answered her.

 A shiny silver snake shot out of the nasal cavity and slithered across her lap—causing Liliana to scream irrationally—before it disappeared into a crack in the floor.

“Ugh!” Liliana put her hand to her chest to calm her thudding heart. Stupid snakes. They were always showing up when she could least deal with it. Liliana touched her tender ribs and realized how weak she still was. Even the thought of standing up made her sick to her stomach.

“How the fuck will I get out of here?” she muttered to herself, looking at the corpse. She was weak, but there was ample black mana singing around her. She had no way to heal herself, but she could create something that could help her.

“Congratulations, you’ve got the job!” she said to the body in front of her. Whispering dark words, Liliana moved her slender fingers in an elaborate pattern in the air. The mana filled her veins and seemed to swell through her heart and mind, its familiar slow effervescence pulsing outwards as she completed the spell.

 Nothing, for a few moments. The chamber was still and Liliana could only smell blood and decay in a sad, sodden silence.

Then the corpse lifted its head.

“Elspeth?” it hissed. Liliana blinked.

“Lovely. I would raise the one dead man that would call me by another woman’s name before we were even properly introduced,” Liliana rolled her eyes and snapped her fingers. The skeletal head rotated slowly towards her. One eye socket burned with an unnatural blue flame. The other was dark. Liliana sensed skepticism within the living skeleton.

“Look,” she said, “I have no idea who Elspeth is. I’m not her, and you belong to me now. My name is Liliana Vess—you can call me ‘my lady’—and you will obey me."

The corpse whooshed out some air. If Liliana hadn't been so sure that reanimated undead were supposed to be devoid of emotion, she would have sworn it was a long-suffering sigh of utter resignation...and intense annoyance.


  1. Just Awesome. Wanted to keep reading.

  2. I really appreciate the feedback. So happy you enjoyed it, next installment up later this morning, actually!

  3. Good stuff! By the way, this reminds me of Mirrodin:

  4. Thank you! And yeah, wow, that art, amazing. I'm going to tweet it. :)