Friday, April 4, 2014

Retribution in Ravnica: Prologue (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part 1...

A real door appeared in the blank space of one of the windowed walls. Liliana sat on the ottoman, ankles crossed and fingers laced around one knee like a proper Syndicate debutante. Lupe had mentioned the infernal had taken the glamour of a dandy. So be it. Game on, Liliana thought, biting her lip in anticipation.

The doors swung open. Silence. A log in one of the fireplaces crumbled. After several moments, Liliana made a show of being unable to restrain herself from leaning forward and trying to catch a glimpse of her suitor, as might a nervous ingenue.  Perfectly timed, the pledge’s dark shadow coalesced. Liliana froze. The shadow took a step forward, just enough so that the firelight glinted on gold threads, an ornamental hilt, titanium-gray hair in a long ponytail slung over one shoulder.

Liliana giggled to herself. Is that what he thought I’d be into? So far, so good. Everything was unfolding perfectly, like a zib-store romance. Suddenly the walls darkened from almond to walnut, the fake skylight was replaced by an eye of flame, and the fireplaces shifted from white marble into black. His preferences, Liliana mused. The man stepped into the room.

Liliana was pleased to see that he had not chosen a glamour that was overly youthful. The dandy’s wide gaze was coal-black, his skin dark, and interesting lines of age spread from the corners of his eyes and mouth. His features were handsome, strong and aquiline. The necromancer found herself smiling. Again with sharp timing, the man’s gaze fell from a polite assessment of her face to a blatantly lascivious survey of her body. Even with enough yards of Orzhov satin to choke a nephilim standing between her flesh and this man, Liliana felt the caress of his gaze on her skin.

She shivered involuntarily.

“You’ve put yourself in a very vulnerable position, Lady Treakoff. Or may I call you ‘Opal’?” His voice carried surprisingly well. Liliana also noted the emphasis on her alias. Guess he wants to play edged, she glowered inwardly.

“Oh, don’t look so petulant.” He strode towards her with long, deliberate steps, a smirk upon his lips. “You should feel satisfaction. Your reputation precedes you by entire planes, my mistress.”

Bold. Liliana was still having fun, but she had to find out who this joker was. 

“Got me. Show me yours I’ll show you mine?” she grinned, extending her hand in a gracefully aristocratic manner to receive his kiss, her actions contradictory to the coarse colloquialisms she’d chosen.

The man paused. Good, he’s thrown off. How quaint, Liliana cocked her head at him expectantly.

“Oh, please, you didn’t think I’d mistake that fop’s getup for your true nature, did you? And what kind of Gateless dandyI don’t care how richwalks around packing a “garnetthe size of Rakdos’s ass? Oh, and given that it’s such a special garnet, I have to assume you wanted to telegraph to me that you were a pledge worth seeing, someone who’s much more than he appears.”

The man shrugged and took her hand. His fingers were hot and dry. “It’s all true. I merely thought you might want to dally in pleasantries a little longer, extend the roleplay… From what I’ve heard, you are known to have a passion for theatrics.” He lowered his lips to the back of her hand. They, too, were of an abnormally warm temperature.

It was Liliana’s turn to be thrown off. Sure, everyone knew she could be a drama queen, but barely anyone (alive) knew about her other tastes.  

“Let’s see it,” Liliana said, standing.

“You first,” the man chuckled. “It was an awful lot of sangrite, after all.”

“Fine,” Liliana said. She’d keep the Orzhov getup but revert to her real skin.

She touched the black stone in her left earring and Opal Treakoff’s blonde bangs melted into black tendrils. The waifish figure filled out beneath the satin gown in several places and the fabric strained to contain some of the curves of the body beneath it. The cold jade eyes phased out to reveal deeply purple ones. Opal’s pale vulpine face was replaced by Liliana’s fuller lips and less angular features.

“Much better,” the man said, with a strange note of sincere relief in his voice. 

“Now, allow me… “ he put his fingers to a brooch at his belt, and his skin split straight down the middle, as if it couldn’t wait to release what was inside. A blue gush of energy and black smoke spewed forth from the man and Liliana raised a hand to wave it off, coughing and wrinkling her nose.

At the same moment, the room’s walls darkened to black and the floor became red jasper. The shadows and the flames leapt in stature, and Liliana felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise.

I’ll have to be ready for anything. Luckily she always carried anti-demon paraphernalia.

Liliana stood with her back to the fire. 

She grinned up into the blackness looming over her. “Ah, I would have guessed Nefarox, if I was a betting woman. I see I was wrong. You have the upper hand. Who are you?” 

The demon towered above her at a height of about eight feet. Of course, that would be but a fraction of his true nature. It wouldn’t do to appear for a tryst so grossly oversized that it made things technically difficult. Liliana felt the heat from the fireplace pressing through her gown and enjoyed how it pricked her skin with pain, keeping her alert.

“You said it yourself. Who am I? Not Nefarox.” The demon spoke in a voice as resonant as the tides of a watery grave. Liliana was surprised to see him bare his teethin a grin, not an attack. He stepped forward. She stepped back. The blaze behind her scorched her neck beneath the Orzhov headdress. She wanted to reach up and scratch the itch, but kept her hands stoically clasped behind her back. The demon stopped advancing.

“They didn’t lie about you,” he said.

“So they told you I’m a bitch, did they? Heartless bastards,” Liliana smirked.

The demon chuckled, shaking his head. “They said you were beautiful. ‘The last lotus,’ is what you are called in many realms. They said you are cold as an ice age, your heart black as a nihil stone. They said your skin is white as the sands of Shiv, your soul bluer than Thassa’s dominion. They said your blood is as rich and mox-red as the ore of Kher, that it drives men to madness and nations to war. They said your passion is verdant as Khrosa, deeper than a Rift. They said a dream of death follows in your wake. And they said you are a demon-hunter.”

“I am, that,” Liliana said, her eyes drawn to the azure scars illuminating the demon’s obsidian skin. He noted her gaze.

“Scars,” he said. “They bind me to promises I regret I made. But they also afford me a bit of mobility I wouldn’t otherwise have. I expect you can relate.”

Liliana felt herself nodding, her dress damp with sweat. Her mind tumbled. I could speak the exit key now. Wonder if Venser’s blundered into attracting all our enemies to the flat yet. It could be a quiet night, she could read that novel she’d started ages ago. There was some flat champagne left in one of the bottles at home. But, I don’t have a home… only places I borrow for a while

Liliana reached up and lifted the Orzhov hat and veil from her brow, tossing it aside. The headdress clattered to a cool stop on the jasper floor. The demon nodded approvingly as her black tresses fell free.

The demon suddenly seemed much closer to her. Close enough to touch her.

“I’ll kill you,” Liliana said sincerely. She inched back again. The hem of her dress touched the burning logs in the fireplace, and began to smoke. It had been a long time. A fleeting image of Jor Kadeen’s handsomely long-suffering face flashed through her mind, backlit by the sickly moons of Mirrodin. She’d given him to the Orthodoxy, then the Cage. And she’d do it again, every time.

The demon shrugged. “Kill me,” he said. His eyes flared bright blue for a moment, reminding her of something she couldn’t think of. Liliana stared at the demon impassively as her mind raced. It didn’t add up. This demon’s aura didn’t feel demonic. Liliana’s hand absently touched her neck, where Kothophed had first marred her skin. 

“Scars,” the demon said, reaching toward her, “You can’t know the nothingness, being as young as you are. But you know the pain.”

Liliana raised her hands. She had a spell on her lips to obliterate this poetic infernal fluff-nut into nothingness, so he could get to know it even better. But she didn’t cast it. The words of shadow died on her lips. The demon’s talon rended her dress from the high collar to the nipped waist, without his claw so much as grazing her skin. The fabric fell away to reveal her ivory flesh, crossed and mapped with leylines of incandescent violet. The demon caught both her wrists in one of his huge hands, yanking her arms up and bending them back until her hands were trapped behind her own head, gathering her closer to him. With the slightest pressure from his forearm to her shoulder blades, he forced her body to arch towards him.

“You know, there used to be many like you,” the demon said quietly, as he looked down at her.

“There’s no one like me,” Liliana scoffed, her eyes flaring violet as she commanded triplet jets of black flame to strafe the demon’s back. He threw back his head and growled in pain, tightening his grip on her. Liliana gasped as her shoulder joints were stretched cruelly. She glanced up into his wicked grin.

“So you like fire,” the demon said, amused. He opened his mouth and a burst of lightning-laced white heat erupted, aimed directly at Liliana’s legs. She shrieked as the alabaster satin of her skirt caught fire, everything from the pearl embroidery to the stiff tulle slip going up in a purple inferno in less than a second.

I’m such a foolit was a trap. Liliana kicked, expecting to feel and smell her own burning flesh at any moment. The demon chuckled as she thrashed, and, terrified and outraged, she called to mind a lethal spell she’d picked up on Mirrodin… only to have it stripped from her with a wink from her captor.

“That’s no fun,” he said. At that moment the blaze vanished. Liliana stopped struggling. She felt fine. She glanced down. The flames were, indeed, gone. And so was her skirt, the slip, and her boots. And her underwear.

I should be angry, she thought, humiliated. The demon was looking at her expectantly. For some reason, instead of embarrassed or enraged, Liliana was giddy. She felt a huge laugh bubble up from her throat, and in a second she was guffawing like a drunk viashino.

Nymph-naked and just pranked by a demon. Gods, is this great. Liliana felt tears of mirth on her cheeks. The demon set her down gently on the fluffy wolf rug and spoke calmly.

“There used to be many like you, in that it was much more common, ages ago, for female humans of power to bind themselves to darkness through pact or bargain or contract. It has sadly fallen out of fashion. Do you know what female demons are like to bed?”

“I can imagine,” Liliana giggled. The demon conjured two gratuitously jeweled wine goblets and a wine decanter. A goblet floated toward her and Liliana plucked it from the air. The emeralds embedded in its silvery patina were the size of acorns.

“The worst part is,” the demon said, pouring with a grace that Jor would have envied, “that demon females actually prefer to mate with… merfolk males.”

Liliana spit out a mouthful of wine. The demon was laughing, too, a rough dark sound that reverberated warmly off the shadows.

“There’s only one problem with your story,” Liliana sighed, after she finally composed herself and had taken a couple deep swigs of the fabulous sanguine refreshment.

“And what is that?” the demon leaned closer to her from his seat on the floor. She could feel the unholy heat that wafted off of him in waves, so hot that it made the room and its two blazing fireplaces seem cool in comparison.

“You’re not a demon.” Liliana snapped her fingers. A slender gleaming blade appeared in her hand, its edge pressed to the interloper’s thick neck. Liliana took a drink of her wine and flexed her hand around the black-corded hilt. “Liar, liar,” she chided her captive. 

“Was it that obvious?” he smiled.

“Well, even for a demon that amount of sangrite would be near impossible to come by. And you’re too hot.”

“Thank you.”

Liliana chuckled. “I meant literally. You’re a walking forge. Demons have a dankness. I remember it well from when old Kothofool gave me these tattoos.”

The demon’s azure eyes flickered and flared. With curiosity, or lust, or annoyance, Liliana couldn’t tell. Her heart was beating too quickly to concentrate fully on details. She took another long sip of her wine.

“But,” she continued. “The biggest tell: eloquence. You were much too conversational. Poetic, even. A real demon could barely hope to speak his own name and not have it mistaken for a goblin fart.”

Her captive roared a laugh. “Well, in all honesty, it would have been rude of meand quite impossibleto show up in my true shape and expect you to have anything to do with me.” The demon raised an eyebrow to underscore his meaning. Liliana pursed her lips. The demon shrugged.

“So. Now what?” he asked her, eyes gleaming.

“The sangrite is mine, even if we part ways now, since you grossly misrepresented yourself in the sealing of the pledge. That is fatal to the contract.” Liliana reminded him, gulping down wine.

“Alright, miss advokist. I concede that point. And yet, as true as that may be, I believe it is even truer that beings such as you and I couldn’t care less about the contract.” He grinned, lifting a talon to brush against Liliana’s thigh. She kicked it, and pressed the silver blade deeper into his neck. He chuckled and raised his hands in abeyance.

“The question is, sir demon, do you still want to get personal with a walker who knows your true identity?” Liliana tilted the sword so the tip was dangerously close to impaling the soft spot behind the demon’s jaw. A vulnerability a true demon should not have.

The demon’s eyes dimmed a moment, as if considering the question seriously. There was a blinding flash. One minute Liliana was staring up at him, waiting for a response, next she was staring down at him, struggling to draw a breath. The demon was lying on the ottoman… and she was lying on top of the demon, pinned beneath his great arms and claws.

“No, my dear, the question is: do you want to get personal with a dragon?”

Beneath Liliana’s hands she could feel the runes carved into his stonelike skin. So that was it. A dragon in the form of a demon, wandering around unsupervised, and here to bed her… confirming aspects of the gossip that her employer had been dropping hints about for months. It seemed then, that there was truth to the rumor that some races were finding ways to cheat the laws of the Blind Eternities. Had the dragonsas well as demonsdiscovered a method to artificially ignite?

If that’s the case, planeswalkers had better enjoy dominance while we still have it. Liliana laughed aloud at the absurdity of life. The demon quirked his dark brow at her and grinned back ferociously. She pressed her body down into his and felt his muscles tense and bunch in anticipation. A soft, hoarse gasp escaped through her companion’s fangs. There was the leathery creak of his wings reflexly unfurling.

He smelled like smoke and blood and salt marshes and the open sky. The rough ridges of his scars and the heat from his inner fire pained the soft skin of her palms and her breasts and her thighs, but there was no way she was letting go. This is storybook goddess stuff, Liliana thought gleefully, her soul soaring. Belt notch the size of an epic ballad, check.

She lifted her arms, putting her hands on either side of his head, tilting the horned face so her “demon” had to look straight at her. His breathing was deep and ragged, his eyes pulsed like blue stars. Liliana’s gaze brightened steadily to meet his, until he thought he must be looking into twin novas of violet. She leaned forward until her mouth was a mere breath away from him.

“Do I want to get personal with a dragon?” she whispered. “What a superfluous question, Crosis.”

Her lips brushed his. It felt like aeons of existence were peeled away from him, centuries of burden burned away in an instant by an aether storm that smelled of vanilla and orchid.

They hadn’t lied about her, the dragon thought, as he moved his demon's body to receive the necromancer… ten times the sangrite would still have been too small a gift.

___________________ be continued next week in Chapter 1: All My Life

Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction

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