Thursday, April 24, 2014

Retribution in Ravnica 3: The Hotstepper

“I’m sorry, I don’t think you realize who I am, honey.”

It was twilight on Foundry Street. The smiths and armorers were all anxious to call it a day. The “iron artisans” as they were knowngoblins, ogres, orcs, and burly humanswere notorious for both starting and ending the workday early. Often a weaponsmith could be found at her forge hours before sunrise, the metallic aria of her hammer on steel ringing out across the pre-dawn darkness. By late afternoon, most of Foundry Street had already been at work for twelve or more hours. Dusk meant relief for aching muscles, time to hang up the heavy pliers and mauls, time to douse the red-hot coals. Time for cold beer and spicy sausages.

“I said, we’re closed for the day!” The ogre scowled at the customer who’d appeared at the pick-up window a couple minutes ago. The guy was Rakdos, kinda scrawny, and dressed in a really weird getup that included a leather skullcap that covered one eye and a black half-tunic that exposed the lower portion of the man’s torso. The guy was also wearing studded leather pants that barely covered his ass.

“Ehm, that doesn’t really work for me, sweetie,” the customer said. The ogre growled and smashed a fist into the wall. The guy blinked, but that was all. “I have an order to pick up, and I need it now,” he said, pointing a pale finger at a gigantic box up in the storage loft.

“Ya shoulda come earlier!” the ogre roared, turning to the pick-up window balefully.

“I do get that a lot,” the Rakdos said, with a deep sigh. “But it’s better than the alternative, right?”

The ogre scratched his head. “Alternative?” he said. The guy smiled at him, which made the ogre really, really uncomfortable. The ogre knew he was supposed to be angry. He had told Borg and Skruz he’d be at Dumple’s by four. They were probably eating all the haggis at this very moment. Rage started to burble up in the ogre’s brain again.

“I bet you like centaursbuck-naked, big ole chestnut-bootied centaur ladies. Right?” The leather-clad shrimp was grinning even more. The ogre cast him a suspicious look.

“Sure,” he said reluctantly, glancing around to see if anyone else was listening. Foundry Street had emptied out. “Sure,” the ogre said, more assertively. “They got a lot of endurance. Most women can’t take a real ogre, if ya know what I mean.”

“I certainly do!” said the Rakdos. “So, if you like centaurs, then you’ve certainly heard of The Braided Tail…?”

The ogre scratched his ear self-consciously. “Outta my price range,” he mumbled. The Rakdos nodded as if expecting that, and with a flourish produced a gleaming black card in his right hand. He dangled it between two fingers at the ogre.

“What’s that?” The ogre grabbed at the card as he asked the question. The mysterious man smiled and withdrew the card from reach, holding it just far enough away that the ogre couldn’t get it without going through him.

“Hot-to-Trot VIP pass to The Braided Tail. Get my order without any more whining, and it’s yours.”

The ogre’s mouth opened soundlessly. He’d heard talk of Braided Tail’s VIP experienceone of his fellow Foundry Street denizens had won a one-night sampler package in an Izzet raffle. Most of the smithys were still repeating stories of Voobor’s exploits from that one night. Voobor still walked with a limp.

“Deal,” the ogre said hoarsely. He cleared his throat. “Who are you?” he asked the stranger. A VIP pass to The Braided Tail was rumored to cost more than two years’ salary.

“Darling, I’m Lucent Dao.” The Rakdos winked and flipped the black card through the air into the ogre’s eager grasp.

“You?” The ogre stared.

“What, were you expecting some muscle-bound brute like Rakdos? Come on, peach. My order. Now.”

The ogre nodded dumbly and tucked the card safely within his tunic. He scurried over to the ladder to the loft and rushed to get the acting Guildmaster of the Rakdos Cult exactly what he wanted. Sweating, balancing the huge crate atop his shoulders as he descended the ladder, the ogre couldn’t believe he’d nearly threatened to punch the current master of the Rakdos. With a grunt, the ogre set the crate on the ground and bowed to Dao.

“Let me carry it for you,” the ogre said. “Where you headed?”

“If you insist, sweetie. Just follow my narrow ass into the Orzhov ‘hood. And don’t drop it, or I’ll have to take back the VIP card and strangle you with your own viscera instead.”

The ogre nodded and raised the crate onto his broad shoulders. “Next time you come to Foundry, Guildmaster, come to me. From now on you’ve got free work at Jov’s. Any job, anytime.”

“Thanks, honey,” Lucent said, giving the ogre an affectionate pat on the rump. Jov jumped, but said nothing. He hoped the Guildmaster would become a loyal customer, ushering in a lot more business from the Rakdos elite. And the VIP pass…! Jov could barely keep his mind on following Dao through the streets. Voobor had described, in detail, the gloriously shiny coats and godly musculature of the ladies of The Braided Tail...

Lucent Dao smiled to himself, thoroughly enjoying his poweras well as his anonymityas he made his way through the growing dark toward Pivlic’s Grill. It was a very important business meeting.

“But, but… I hate the smell of dragon ass,” Doc whined. Tezzeret maintained a stoic expression but briefly entertained the thought of drilling his own temple with a pithing needle to shut the voice in his head the hell up.

The narrow shadow that cut across the outside of the Aerie was Tezzeret’s--the planeswalking artificer a neat study in lean muscle mass, practical metal augmentations and can’t-pinch-an-inch-to-save-my-life physiques.

The voice in the artificer’s head was courtesy one Elder Dragon whose name began with Dick and ended in Hole. Tezzeret and Bolas had an ongoing rivalry that was entering its second or third decade, with the dragon having the upper hand for the last five turns or so.

But, one day… Tezzeret looked at the sunset-soaked skyline of Ravnica and knew it was inevitable. He would dominate the dragon eventually, once and for all. His favorite cocktail was the Last Word, and it wasn’t an accident.

The artificer’s pale blue eyes, nearly gray, flashed as he began to climb the side of the Aerie like any other manual-labor lackey. Doc’s voice grated on his consciousness every step of the way. “Tezz, do you think Setessan women or Meletian women are hotter? I kind of like the idea that the Setessans could beat our ass, but… Oh yeah, Tezz? Did you think that Ulamog’s gut looked a little paunchier than last time? I think he’s gained at least a couple tons of weight… Hey, did you remember to send those scouts down to Urborg to check on--”

“Shut up, Doc,” Tezzeret ordered. The extra parasite of a consciousness that burdened the artificer was merely an elaborate tracking device conceived by the Elder Dragon. Should Tezzeret try to go rogue or do anything outside of the interests of Nicol Bolas, Doc administered a hefty shock. During all other times, Tezzeret merely had to live with the relentless and inane chatter of the witless symbiote.

Tezzeret’s long, dreaded hair was flecked with metal shards and moved subtly in the breeze as he ascended the Aerie tower. Once a street urchin in the ghetto of Esper on the plane of Alara, Tezzeret was used to hard times. At this point in his life there was nothing he hadn’t seen or done, and nothing he found daunting. The blood-orange hues of the setting sun touched his skin with gold and his etherium arm with sanguine shades.

Up, up, up…

Babysitting dragon ass. Yes, one day… Bolas will pay up. Tezzeret envisioned roasting pieces of the Elder Dragon over a red-hot blaze of coal somewhere out in the Eventide wilderness. Maybe he’d feed it to the giants and the bogles.

“Do you think dragon tastes more like beef or pork?” Doc mused, privy to Tezzeret’s thoughts.

“I think it tastes like fucking chicken,” the artificer said.

Pivlic hovered anxiously around the back patio of his restaurant and bar. The entire section had been closed and reserved for this evening’s meeting, and now Dao was late. Pivlic dabbed his brow with a finely embroidered Orzhov handkerchief and hazarded a glance at his other guest. That was a mistake. She was staring at him icily, with those creepy pale green eyes, and Pivlic realized her glass was dry… again.

“Going to drink this imp right out of business,” he grumbled to himself, while giving the young woman a gracious smile and motioning a waiter to refill her. A young gargoyle wafted over and poured the woman a generous shot of liquor from a bottle that was obviously extremely old. Pivlic could barely keep from wincing as he noticed the bottle was already a third emptyit was from his personal collection and extremely rare. Thirty-year-old whisky from a small-run distillery located on the site of Zomaj Hauc’s former dragon egg debacle. The liquor supposedly contained traces of dragon essence and had been aged in runed barrels rumored to be from another plane. Pivlic had definitely noticed strange properties in the whisky, notably that he craved cigars when drinking it and also that the woodsy notes were distinctly alpine. A bottle, if you could still find one, would set you back about fifty thousand zinos.

The young woman slurped down half of the glass, and Pivlic had to turn away.

Where was Dao? The youthful Rakdos Guildmaster was usually very timely. Pivlic sighedwhat a time to be tardy. The restaurant was bustling, as usual, and a number of matters required the imp’s attention. But worst of all, Dao and Pivlic had a lot riding on this young woman’s investment in their latest venture, and she was getting more impatient by the second. Pivlic dabbed his face with the hankie again. His guest was now tapping her foot and actively glaring at him.

“He should be here any minute,” Pivlic said to her. “He’s really a very nice young man, well-mannered and usually very prompt

“I have other places to be, imp,” the woman said. “He’s got thirty seconds. And I’ll take more of this.” She tapped her glass.

Pivlic ground his teeth and nodded to the waiter. Where in Orzhova’s name was Dao? Pivlic’s dear friend and boss Lord Teysa Karlov, Grand Envoy of the Orzhov Syndicate, had assured him this young woman was a fine individual and worth getting in on this deal. Pivlic, holding his mistress Teysa in the highest regard, was resolved to treat their mutual acquaintance with the utmost respect… but so far, he didn’t much like her. At all.

“Darlings! I’m so, so, so so so so sorry I’m late.” A silky tenor voice cut through the noise of the restaurant and Pivlic moved his mouth in a silent prayer of thanks. The imp turned in midair to see his friend bustle into the patio, followed by a hulking ogre carrying a giant crate. Pivlic motioned Lucent to hurry over, communicating with a tweaked eyebrow that their potential investor was not happy at the moment. Pivlic pulled out a chair for the Rakdos Guildmaster and Lucent rushed over to glide gracefully into it, throwing a wide, charming smile at the young woman. She raised both eyebrows.

“We’re sorry you’re late, too.” The woman’s huge hat nearly knocked Pivlic from the air as she turned, looking around for something. “Just give me the bottle,” she yelled at the waiter when she spied the young gargoyle cowering over by the service station, pretending to fold napkins. The gargoyle complied after throwing a desperate glance at Pivlic, who floated down to seat himself at the head of the table. The woman dumped more of the Schism Reserve whisky into her glass, and Pivlic quaffed his own glass of white wine to cope.

“I’ve brought a gift!” Lucent said, wisely skipping introductions and cutting to the chase. Pivlic nodded supportively, glad that the young Guildmaster’s instincts were once again proving spot-on. The Orzhov woman’s face remained skeptical, but her irritation seemed to soften just a bit.

“Let’s see it, Dao,” Pivlic chimed in. “The lady has been kept waiting, through our shortcomings, far too long already.” Lucent bowed his head contritely and beckoned the ogre forward, instructing him to open the crate. Pivlic glanced out of the corner of his eye at the young woman, and was relieved to see she looked fairly assuaged for the moment.

The side of the crate popped open, pried free by the ogre’s strong hands and an awl he carried on his belt.

“Am I supposed to know what that is?” the young woman said,squinting her jade-green eyes.

“Yes… what is it?” Pivlic flapped over and peered into the crate for a closer look. “You didn’t tell me about this, Dao.”

"I wanted it to be a surprise! For both of you.” Lucent stood up and waved Pivlic away from the create. “Let me explain, you silly imp. With your permission, my lady,” he added, with an expert bow. The young woman inclined her head a fraction of an inch, her expression amused. Pivlic swallowed with anxiety, prayed that Lucent knew what he was doing, and flapped back to his seat.

Dao launched into his pitch with full stage energy. “May I present… the next level in agricultural technology. Conceived in the depths of Rix Maadi, vetted by top Izzet think-tanks, tested rigorously in numerous Golgari fieldson an extensive variety of crops, I might addthis machine is ready to take food production of all kinds into a new era.” Lucent paused for drama, then flung a handful of black sand at the crate. The top and remaining sides evaporated with an impressive, sparkly poof. “May I present… the key to maximizing Ravnica’s existing food sources, the key to efficiently unlocking access to new agricultural opportunities… durability and flexibility incarnate, the Lyzolda X-69000 Harvester!”

A many-edged and many-orificed artifact shone smugly in the mauve light thrown from the patio lanterns.

“We affectionately call it the Deep Throat for short.” Lucent beamed at the contraption.

Pivlic winced and slapped a palm to his forehead. With racing heart, he peered with one eye through his short and clawed fingers at the young lady to gauge her reaction. She had one hand over her mouth and a frosty look in her eyes.

Then she laughed. She threw back her head and laughed until she snorted, then reached for her glass and downed more whisky. Pivlic looked askance at Lucent, who raised his hands at Pivlic placatingly. Be patient, I know what I’m doing the Guildmaster’s expression seemed to say. Lucent maintained a confident, but humble, smile as the young lady grew quiet once again. Then she looked up sharply at both of them.

“I happen to have an artificer in my employ who can make a better piece of snapjaw skrat than this in his sleep. Why in the Obzedat’s ass should I cut you two in on this dealbecause let’s be honest, that’s what’s happening… you need my cash more than I need your… whatever it is you’re bringing to the tablewhy shouldn’t I just buy the land myself, develop it, and use my own machinery to reap the fruits of my own labor?”

Pivlic was speechless with dismay. He looked to Lucent. The young Rakdos was glowering, his calm veneer finally cracking with the stress of the situation. Pivlic opened his mouth to interject, hopefully save the negotiationsbut Lucent beat him to it.

“Because our machine is called the LYZOLDA X-69000 DEEP THROAT, you hideous, frigid bitch!” the Rakdos guildmaster said, putting his hands on his hips and raising his chin defiantly.

Pivlic sank face-first onto the table. His hand twitched, reflexly grasping for his glass of wine. Deal’s off. She’s going to badmouth Pivlic’s Grill to all her rich friends. We’ve no hope of acquiring that Utvara parcel… I’ll be a working stiff till the end of my impish days.

“Good answer,” the young woman said. “Did you name it after your great-aunt?” Pivlic looked up. The Orzhov debutante was grinning at Lucent—and he was nodding at her, dumbfoundedas she refilled her glass with the last of Pivlic’s precious dragon-whisky. The imp thought he must be hallucinating. Then the woman turned her vulpine smile towards him, and he knew it was for real. “I’m known for my sick sense of humor in other circles,” she said to Pivlic.

“This is how it goes down,” she continued, motioning for Lucent to take a seat. He did, with a petulant but not displeased expression on his face. “I’m going to buy the Utvara land from our mutual friend, the lovely Ms. Karlov. You two will manage it for me. I don’t care how you divide the labor, just get it done. I’ll give you each ten percent ownership in the business in exchange for your sweat equity. If you want to buy more shares you can put up the cash like any other silent investor. I’m going to entrust you both with agricultural tech I’ve brought with me from… elsewhere. We’re not planting rice on this land. We’re planting grapes. I’ll pay you for the use of your machinery. If your Deep Throat fails, at any time, in any capacity, I have the right to sue for damages and will cut you out of the deal immediately. If you two violate my trust and privacy or give me any trouble whatsoever I reserve the right to kill either, or both, of you.”

Lucent and Pivlic stared at the young woman.

“We good?” she said.

The imp and the Guildmaster nodded.

“Good,” the woman said. “I’m going to buy out all other wine producers on Ravnica. A very old friend has taught me that monopolies are never a bad thing for the monopolizers. You boys ready to make a lot of money, indefinitely? I am.”

The Orzhov debutante stood up, drained her glass, and vanished in a flicker of shadow.

“What did you say her name was?” Lucent Dao whispered to Pivlic.

“Treakoff,” Pivlic said weakly. “Opal Treakoff.”

“Bitch… I like her!” Lucent sighed, then turned to the ogre. “Thanks. You can carry this back to Rix Maadi for me. This charm will keep you out of harm’s way.” The Guildmaster stretched two slender fingers towards Jov and pressed them into his neck. The ogre growled with pain as a glowing brand appeared in his skin. He nodded to Dao, lifted the Deep Throat, and departed out the patio gate.

“Lord Teysa certainly keeps some odd friends.” Pivlic murmured. “You hungry, Dao?”

“Famished! Please say you have that screecher pate on the menu tonight.”

“It’s not on the menu, but I’m pretty sure we have some in the back. I think I’m in the mood to trouble the kitchen for it. Shall we?”

“Oh yes, let’s, honey.”

The night darkened, the lanterns brightened, and the live music at Pivlic’s Grill started up as imp and Guildmaster happily dunked rye crackers into rich, smoothly whipped bat livers.
_________________ be continued in Chapter 4: Take Me Out

Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction

No comments:

Post a Comment