“At ease, soldier.” Tajic, Blade of the Legion—second only to Aurelia, the angelic Boros warleader—descended the steps of Sunhome with his characteristic leading step, the slightly awkward gait.
Ha, anyone who mistakes that walk for a lack of coordination… well, it’s their funeral thought Johan Clarke, the veteran swiftblade to whom Tajic had addressed his words. The soldier raised his fist to his chest in salute, and turned toward the Legionnaire with the daily report ready on his lips. He made sure to relax his posture, though his heart was beating rapidly.
Tajic smiled at the swiftblade, his teeth angelically bright against his tanned and olive-toned skin. “I’ve heard gossip, Johan. Supposedly you dispatched an entire Golgari raid-squad during the course of the night. Not sure what I should think about that.” The tall and confident icon of the Legion fell into step next to Johan and they walked together.
Johan demurred. “Think whatever you’d like, sir. But if you’re as great a commander as I wagered Wenslauv Jr. last night, you’ll give me a raise.”
Tajic laughed. “Regrettably, you might lose that bet, Johan. Budget cuts and all,” Tajic clapped the swiftblade on the shoulder. “But I can have Junior take extra roc-stall duty for a week, for fleecing you so badly.”
“I’d appreciate that, sir. Ever since those posters of her surfaced, she’s been walking around thinking she can shirk chores.”
“She showed admirable valor in that battle. Fame does strange things to a young soldier.”
“Only to the weak of character,” Johan said.
“Junior’s a fine skyknight, and it would be wrong to blame her for the artist’s infatuation. She didn’t solicit him to publish that poster. Besides, it is free PR for Boros.” Tajic replied mildly, and Johan let the matter drop. Though it was true that Wenslauv Jr. had spent more time this morning signing images of herself for underage Azorius than she had mucking stalls, Tajic was right. Junior was a great roc-rider.
Johan cleared his throat. “The report, sir?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” Tajic said, putting one hand on his sword and the other behind him, resting on the small of his back, as he always did when listening to sensitive material that required his concentration.
Johan nodded and fixed his aquamarine eyes intensely ahead of them, scanning for anything unusual in the path of his commander while also recalling the information that had come in overnight. “The Gateless militia did an admirable job controlling crowds at a particularly well-attended service at one of the new Heliud churches. Apparently Cleric Ar-Alan himself was in attendance. There might be some potential Legion recruits worth looking at in that militia, I have names if you want to follow up.”
“Hmm, perhaps,” said Tajic. They walked away from the garrison, through Sunhome’s courtyard, each used to the discomfort of armor in even weak sunlight.
“Lavinia’s elite stopped another attack at the Guildpact offices.”
“The evidence suggested so.”
“Hrm.” Tajic moved one hand to his goatee, which meant he was concerned.
“Lavinia sent an owl stating they had it in hand and our assistance is not needed currently—though it may be, in the near future.”
“It will cost us,” Tajic murmured.
“You know what they say,” Johan chuckled.
“Any day with the Legion is a great day to die, sir,” Johan said, smiling at his commander. Tajic frowned. Johan shrugged. “Don’t brood on it, sir. We’re all here to sacrifice if need be.”
Tajic’s face softened. “I will ask the Ledev what she knows. If anything.” The Legionnaire stopped to chat with some trainees. Johan didn’t like relying on information from Fonn, the centuriad half-elf of the Conclave, but she did have long standing ties to the League of Wojek and Johan was committed to placing his full faith in Tajic’s judgment on matters like this. The trainees were laughing at one of Tajic’s much-used jokes about Ruric Thar’s two heads and a sin collector’s one ass, and with that the commander turned and continued his walk with Johan at his side.
“Pardon the interruption, Johan. Anything else?”
“The Grand Envoy forwarded the mortuarial documents for Wenslauv Senior’s ghost. Apparently there were no remains of note at all. I suggest we classify the file as protected.”
“Do it,” Tajic nodded. They’d reached the sweeping expanse of huge white and red tile that fronted Sunhome like a game board just waiting for the next players to arrange their pieces. A small squad of accomplished veteran Firefists was waiting near the road. Near them, but apart, was a lone fair-haired female elf warrior mounted on a giant wolf.
“May I call for your roc, sir?” Johan said, placing his fingers on the Fist brooch that secured his white and red satin cloak.
Tajic shook his head. “The Zarichis the lovely Teysa loaned us.”
Tajic smiled warmly at the swiftblade. “Which mount do you prefer, Johan?”
“Given those choices, I’ll walk,” Johan said tersely. Tajic laughed heartily as the swiftblade buzzed down to the bestiary and asked the handlers to bring up the tigers.
“I am unfortunately out of touch with my ex-husband,” Fonn Zunich said, expertly guiding her wolf away from Tajic’s tempermental Zarichi tiger. The feline swiped at Lorelyan anyway, and Fonn gave the she-wolf a pat for showing greater maturity and ignoring the insult.
“I understand,” Tajic murmured, quite clearly not understanding at all. Fonn didn’t care. She had grown devoutly tired of explaining hers and Jarad’s relationship to friends, relatives, and random strangers on the street over the years. You get a divorce, and everyone’s got a right to know everything, I guess. For the rest of your life. Fonn wondered what her father would have said. Maybe she’d ask Kos. The old Wojek and her father Myczil had been partners. Thinking of her father, Fonn’s thoughts went unbidden to her son, also named Myczil, after his grandpa.
Fonn hadn’t challenged young Myc’s decision to remain with Jarad and learn the ways of the Golgari. After all, Myc was half Devkarin elf, and the undercity was rightfully his home. But over the last few years Fonn had felt a growing distance between herself and her boy, and it weighed on her heart like no questionable killing nor lost battle ever had.
The Auxiliary Patrol cruised, light-footed, around the outskirts of Kilnspire District. It was unusual for the Wojek group to have a celebrity like Tajic with them, and young minotaurs and humans gathered on railings and rooftops to get a glimpse of the posse.
A flower landed in front of the Blade of the Legion, and Tajic smiled and waved to the little girl who’d thrown it. Fonn noted it was Johan, the swiftblade, who bent down to pick it up. All the children only made Fonn think of Myc even more.
Contrary to her elvish blood, Fonn was a great liar. She supposed it came from her father’s side, the Wojek detective in her coming out. She’d brushed aside Tajic’s question as to whether she knew anything of recent Golgari happenings, and she’d lied to the Legionnaire’s face. And she felt fine about it. Knowledge of the undercity that came to her through her personal trials was no business of any Guild Leader or Guildmaster, unless she felt like sharing it. Huh, some might call me jaded, Fonn thought. Lorelyan growled comfortingly, the wolf’s mind so close to the half-elf’s that Fonn felt a sudden craving for rabbit as they passed a small-livestock vendor. Fonn was vegan.
The heat of Kilnspire followed them along the road. Bursts of flames and constant smoke erroded the vistas of the semi-decent day Ravnica was enjoying. Fonn wondered if the pollution floated up and choked denizens of Agyrem. Maybe Szadek would eventually die from inhaling carcinogens. One could only hope.
The patrol rode on, and Fonn’s thoughts began to wander away from the dull banter of the Boros. Does every joke these youngsters know involve bestiality or butts? she wondered, in awe… Yet that thought, too, brought Myczil and Fonn’s ex-husband to the forefront of her mind.
The last time Fonn had seen Jarad it had been to exchange custody of Myczil over the Festival of Songbirds break. Fonn had planned to speak to Myczil about perhaps splitting time between the Ledev Guardians and the Devkarin, but all hope of that had faded as her son had come flying out of the Golgari guildgate on the back of a terrus wurm, whooping and brandishing a shaman-staff, his long dreadlocks flying like ragged pennants in the wind.
“Mom, you’re beautiful,” he’d grinned, greeting her as he always did with charm and a bone-crushing hug. Fonn had given it back, thumping his head like she used to when he was a naughty toddler. Myc had been an “adult” for several years, but that was strictly in terms of physicality. Elves matured fast in body, but slow emotionally. It didn’t help that his father was a lich. Not that Jarad had had much choice—feelings still stirred within Fonn when she thought of Jarad giving his life to free Myc from the blood-witch’s clutches—it just wasn’t the role modeling one might wish for in a less arduous world…
“Ready?” Fonn had said, wrapping an arm around Myc’s shoulders that he promptly shrugged off. “If we start now we can reach the Festival by dawn.”
Myc had kicked the dirt. “Hey Mom, I was wondering if we could do something else instead of seeing the songbirds…?”
Even without hearing the request, Fonn had known it would be a trying week with her son.
“Of course, Myc. What do you want to do, trooper?” Fonn had glanced at Jarad, but he’d turned away to unload Myc’s pack from the wurm.
“There’s a huge, huge party in Rix Maadi,” Myc had said. And at that moment, Fonn had wished for the first time after decades as a grown woman that she was a drinker like most of her Guardian and Wojek peers. Again, Fonn tried to catch Jarad’s eye, but he was studiously bending over to check something on the wurm’s underbelly.
Fonn fumed. Clearly Jarad knew something about this new area of interest, and he didn’t care to discuss it with her—-or didn’t have the spine to. Or was too lazy to. Whatever.
The grin had vanished from Myc’s face and only then had Fonn realized that she’d allowed her concern and fury to show.
“Oh, mom, it’s not like it used to be. Haven’t you heard?”
Fonn tried to listen. She noticed a new weapon on Jarad’s belt, a scourge that was common to the Gorgoni. Her blood pressure rose even more. “The Rakdos have like, totally given up the murdering and torturing stuff,” Myc was saying.
“It’s a Reclamation party. Kind of like what the Grand Envoy did out in Utvara, you know—well, before the Nephilim ruined all of that… but in spirit it’s the same. The new Guildmaster… I mean, the acting Guildmaster of the Rakdos…”
Fonn felt a queasiness, as acute as when she’d been pregnant with Myc.
“... he’s totally into economic reform, and he’s going to convince everyone else in the guild to go along with his ideas at this party. The Rakdos don’t listen to anything unless it’s a party and you beat them over the head with it, but you know, that, Mom…”
Fonn tried one last time to get Jarad’s take on this. Her ex-husband had his hand on the scourge and was looking, expressionless, at the ground.
“Anyway, Lucent is investing in all the infrastructure the Cult is good at—so they’ll have economic independence, and viable businesses, and no more weirdo blood rituals and stuff. It’s not like it’s elf stuff, I mean, it’s brothels and hotels and bars and um… But anyway, Mom, you should see it. I know it sounds strange, but philosophically, I think you’ll totally get it.”
And that was how they did it to you. Flattery and wide-eyed, hopeful trust.
Somehow, Fonn had ended up descending into Rix Maadi for a party with her son. The same hellhole she’d once ridden into years earlier with blood-chilling fear, that time to save Myc from a tortured end at the hands of sadistic, murderous Cultists.
“Is Lucent a friend of yours, Myc?” Fonn had asked neutrally at one point in the journey.
“Um, well—well, yeah. We’re acquainted,” Myc had said. Hesitant. Then too confident. Fonn had smiled and nodded at her son, and then promised herself that she would start drinking as soon as she was back topside.
“Centuriad?” Tajic was addressing her. Fonn blinked. The posse had reached its destination—or whatever it was. A large, newly-formed hole in Ivy Lane gaped up at her.
“I apologize, Legionnaire. I must be getting old,” Fonn smiled at the Boros commander. She was aware of the fact that she had been considered very comely at wolf-rider school. Tajic nodded back, a twinkle in his eye.
“It is a blessing to poor soldiers that elves age with the grace of angels,” he said. Fonn kept the smile on her face as she winced inwardly. Tajic was an extraordinarily handsome human, just not her type. “I was only asking your opinion, Centuriad,” Tajic continued, “as to the safest way to enter the undercity near this point.”
“Of course,” Fonn said, her attention snapping professionally to their surroundings. She was familiar with the location. Ledev Guardians had patrolled the roads of Ravnica from before the time of the guilds, only later attaching themselves to the Selesnya Conclave. She had studied all the routes through the city and had walked most of them with her own—or her wolf’s—feet.
Fonn turned to Tajic. “There’s a discreet entrance behind that inn, within the brambles, under the outhouses.” She turned Lorelyan, ready to lead on. “Shall we, Commander?”
Tajic had an awful expression on his face. “Did you say outhouses?”
Fonn stifled a laugh. Once you’ve been married to a Golgari, guess nothing fazes you, she thought. She wanted to tell the Blade of the Legion, but knew he wouldn’t understand.
“Golgari raids have become very common the last few months,” Tajic said quietly to Fonn as they descended into the undercity via the secret path beneath the latrines of the Oak Street Inn. Despite the Boros hero’s earlier squeamishness about the prospect of climbing under toilets, he showed no hesitation now that they were actually on the move. Fonn noticed that his breath smelled pleasantly of black tea and mint leaves. The Blade of the Legion and the Centuriad led the patrol group down a steep and slimy ramp, neither the type to let others take the burden of the vanguard position if they could help it.
“Though Jarad is Guildmaster and must be held ultimately responsible,” Tajic paused and nodded respectfully, but not apologetically, at Fonn, “I am certain that recent events have been catalyzed almost exclusively through the influence of the Gorgoni—specifically, a gorgon with supernatural powers. I have only ever met one other like this…”
“Supernatural?” Fonn asked, as Lorelyan padded down a moss-covered stair, hackles up, and Tajic’s great tiger stalked close by, yellow eyes piercing the darkness around them.
“Do you believe that there are other worlds besides Ravnica, Centuriad?” Tajic drew his strange curved blade. Fonn’s half-elf ears detected a rustling sound below them, near the end of the stair.
“I have never given it much thought,” Fonn shrugged, also drawing her weapons. She held a fine short blade in either hand, riding her wolf effortlessly using only her legs.
“My Guild affiliation and my religion make it easy for me to believe,” Tajic smiled, his white teeth visible even in the undercity murk. “After all, how could angels be a product of this humble plane alone? Surely their glory must soar upon wider winds.”
“Sir, movement in the tunnels just there,” came Johan’s sharp whisper from behind them. Fonn was impressed—the human swiftblade had eyes sharp as an elf’s—she could just barely make out a flicker of suspicious shadow in the darkness on the landing below.
“Wait,” Taji held up his hand and the patrol halted. The soldiers watched the landing, weapons bared, as Tajic lowered his voice for Fonn’s ears only.
“The warrior I met, whom I believe has set foot upon other worlds, had an ugency about him… a desperation. It is difficult to explain. But when I read death threats written by this gorgon Vraska, and see her bloody messages carved upon the stone of Ravnica, I feel the same aura, the same aggression, the same unrest. I get a similar feeling whenever I stand in the presence of our honored Living Guildpact, Jace Beleren.”
Fonn had questions, but she saw something hulking move forward from one of the tunnels. She had no idea why Tajic would confide these thoughts to her. They were barely acquaintances. Men certainly could be strange in more ways than one.
“Will you accompany me, Centuriad?” Tajic grinned at her.
“Absolutely,” Fonn replied.
Tajic turned to the rest of the patrol—they numbered a dozen altogether. “Johan. The Centuriad and I will descend and attempt to speak with whatever is down there. Do not follow unless it comes to violence. Then, of course, you know what to do.”
“Yes, sir,” Johan said, and Fonn noted that his voice was tight with concern.
“Shall we?” Tajic extended his blade as if they were entering a grand ballroom. Fonn grinned back, riding close beside him as their mounts padded silently along the steep stair. There was a dropoff on either side, and the stair was covered in mold, fungus, slick patches of unidentifiable slime, and tufts of moss.
They were in a vulnerable position, high and exposed above the landing about forty feet below them where the stair culminated. If the shadows in those tunnels were hostile and had any kind of ranged weapons, well… Fonn just hoped that the rumors about Tajic’s legendary invulnerability were true. She’d been around enough to know that sometimes a warrior did possess truly blessed skills or what could only be described as battle-grace, but that the rest of the time a leader’s “proof against” status was simply some lucky dodges and the drunken ramblings of his men being repeated as gospel amongst the masses.
The wolf and the tiger and their riders descended deeper into shadow. Thirty feet till the landing. Twenty feet.
“Stop where you are, Legionnaire.” A deep voice rang out from one of the tunnels. Fonn heard the scrape of steel on stone and wet sucking and shambling noises. She wondered what was hidden back in those tunnels.
“We’re stopping,” Tajic said. “To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing, Golgari?”
“As you seem to know, I am Tajic. This is Centuriad Fonn Myczil Zunich.”
There was a pause. “Myczil?” The ogre’s question rumbled out with a touch of disbelief. In the darkness, Fonn turned to Tajic and gave him a reproachful look. So that’s why he wanted me to come down here with him. My personal connections. Tajic shrugged and smiled. Fonn was irritated but had to acknowledge the Legionnaire’s cleverness. There’s no way either of them would be harmed down here with the Golgari knowing she was Jarad’s ex and Myczil’s mother.
“Good Varolz,” Fonn said, “It is true. Guildmaster-blooded Myczil Savod Zunich is my son. The Legionnaire and I are here only to request information on the unsightly hole above ground on Ivy Lane…”
“And perhaps any knowledge you might have of an attempted Golgari raid on the weapons vault at Sunhome last night,” Tajic interjected smoothly.
A muscular troll with a mohawk emerged from one of the tunnels. He was silent a few moments, and Fonn imagined she could almost hear him thinking. The situation was awkward.
“Varolz would gladly tell the consort of Jarad anything she wished to know,” the troll said. Fonn winced at “consort” and was glad it was dark in the undercity. Tajic appeared to take no notice of it, however. “But Varolz cannot divulge information to the Guild Puppet of the bloodthirsty and fascist angels.”
Ouch, thought Fonn. Worried that the situation would degenerate into a bar fight, she turned to suggest another tact to Tajic. The Blade of the Legion was calm, though, and nodded at the great troll.”
“I understand, Varolz of the Golgari. We will conduct our own investigations. Thank you for entertaining our questions. I respect an individual of conviction, whether human or… not. Centuriad.” Tajic began to turn his tiger and ascend the stair, and Fonn, with a glance and nod of her own for Varolz, started to do the same.
An arrow exploded on the wall directly above Tajic’s head, bursting into a glowing fracas of green gel. Fonn heard Johan’s voice ring out above them, commanding a charge. Fonn watched as drops fell on Tajic’s helm and started to corrode the metal.
“Legionnaire, get down!” she cried, as more arrows stuck the wall with wet splatters, showering them with luminous goo. Fonn leapt from Lorelyan and pulled Tajic from his saddle, covering him with her body as she shoved him to the ground.
“Cease fire!” Varolz was bellowing. “Varolz did not order a—” Fonn heard his shout cut short and had a deep sinking feeling in her stomach. There is trouble within Golgari. Infighting, at the very least… a coup, perhaps, at worst.
The growls of Boros tigers, the clatter of Johan’s boots and the swiftblade’s battle shriek assaulted Fonn’s ears as she forcibly held Tajic down, removing his corrupted helm and smashing her own down over his dark brow, pounding it to make it fit his larger head.
“Ouch!” came Tajic’s muffled cry. Fonn ignored it and kept the Blade of the Legion pinned. She turned to see Johan and the rest of the patrol engaging with Golgari creatures on the landing. Fonn’s half-elf eyesight caught a glimmer of movement in one of the tunnels, a writhing of tentacle-like shadows.
“Gorgon!” Fonn screamed down to Johan. “Keep your eyes down!”
Johan whirled, blade and shield flashing in the light cast by the dire eyes of the approaching gorgon. The swiftblade dispatched a shambling lichen. The light in the tunnel grew brighter and the shadows more intense as the gorgon neared the egress.
“You heard the elf,” Johan shouted to his men, “First man I see look up gets his balls sliced off by me!” The Boros were surrounded by zombie-like plant creatures.
Fonn watched as Johan darted up some pillars and dispatched the ooze-archers that had initially assailed them. In the ambient light from the gorgon’s eyes, Fonn could see that the archers were made of bone and muck. That’s why we didn’t see them as we rode down; they just materialized out of harmless garbage as soon as the gorgon wanted them to start shooting. Fonn had always grudgingly admired the practicality of some of the tactics of her ex-husband’s guild.
“Legionnaire?” Fonn said. “I think it’s safe for you to enter the fray.” She stood up and reached her cytoplastic hand down to help Tajic to his feet. Fonn kept her eyes on the battle. Johan had leapt back down the walls and was beheading a zombie. Just then the gorgon reached the end of the tunnel, and before Fonn looked away she noted the gorgon rode a giant scorpion. Just like Jarad…
The harsh light from the gorgon’s deadly gaze cast the battle in high-relief shadows. Their attention attracted by the movement of the gorgon’s snaking locks, the Boros tiger mounts instantly turned to stone. Lorelyan had turned her head away, guided by the link with Fonn’s mind. In fact, Fonn didn’t want the wolf around at all… Lorelyan, get above ground and seek the nearest Azorius node, it should be just off the road where Ivy Lane meets the Territories. Bring help. The wolf resisted the mental command, but Fonn was firm. She had a gut feeling this wasn’t going to go well and she would not lose another precious wolf on her account. Go. Lorelyan bowed her head and raced back up the stair the way they’d come.
Tajic clasped a hand on Fonn’s shoulder and leaned over to whisper into her ear as he stood. “That’s her. Vraska,” he said. Fonn nodded.
Then the Blade and the Centuriad charged the landing. The gorgon laughed from atop her scorpion, and it reminded Fonn of the sound of her hand being ripped off by Savra, Jarad’s ill-fated sister.
It was a small space for a battle. Two Boros were down—one from a gaping scorpion-tail sting to the chest, the other because he was missing three limbs—and Varolz was still unconscious, his large body making for very awkward footing. Fonn kicked the troll, hoping to rouse him and have another ally, but though she could see no wounds the troll was apparently down for the count. Tajic and Johan fought back to back, Tajic fought easily, a smile on his face, his cuts taking down enemies with each pass. Johan fought grimly, efficiently, with the practiced discipline of a soldier who has had to work hard for his prowess and never takes a kill for granted. Fonn whipped her double-blades into action and walked the perimeter around her team, cutting the legs out from under zombies until she got to where the scorpion clicked and danced its deadly game, its tail flinging forward every now and then to try and impale a soldier. Fonn kept her eyes fixed on the ground, using her elf senses to feel out the gorgon’s movements and to try and outguess her tactics.
A soldier rushed past on Fonn’s left and leapt at the gorgon, doing an impressive forward flip to bypass the scorpion’s claws and head. Unfortunately, the gorgon was prepared—and apparently armed with some kind of edged weapon in addition to the innate gift of her deadly stone gaze—-and the soldier fell back to earth unencumbered by one less head than he’d had when he started his attack.
Fonn rolled forward. She darted to the side as the scorpion’s tail came down. She rolled again, coming up under the scorpion’s body. Whirling both blades, Fonn made quick work of the gorgon’s mount, avoiding getting the scorpion’s bile on herself as much as possible. The giant collapsed to the ground, its legs severed from its body, its claws severed from its head, its head severed from its body and its tail in segments. Fonn rolled cautiously out from beneath the scorpion’s corpse, keeping her senses alert for the gorgon.
In her peripheral vision she saw Tajic heading her way. You dolt. Can’t you see I’m taking care of it? Johan was finishing off an angry beetle of some sort. The rest of the team was starting to regroup, though several were injured. Or dead.
Suddenly three black-clad assassins materialized from the shadows in the corners of the room. Fonn watched with dismay as weary Boros fell to the long knives of the killers. There should be enough soldiers to take them… thought Fonn as she sidestepped over a scorpion leg, stalking the gorgon. In moments, though, the assassins had killed the last of the patrol, save Tajic and Johan. Too fast, Fonn assessed. The Golgari were on home turf, used to fighting in the darkness and in cramped areas.
The assassins were circling Tajic. He had stopped advancing toward Fonn when he realized the soldiers were under attack. Now, he faced the shadowy killers confidently, sword ready to deal righteous, blazing death. Johan rallied to his side, and Fonn was sure those two could take care of themselves, if she could just find this pesky snake-headed—
“Are you looking for me, darling? Inching around like that… such a timid little mouse!”
The voice swept over Fonn like dark water. She wasn’t sure which direction it had come from. The tunnels were distorting everything.
Fonn slashed backwards with one of her short swords. The gorgon’s chuckle was a skittering of rats. Then the room went dark. Damn her, she shut off her eyes Fonn fumed. The trick effectively blinded Johan and Tajic due to the sudden change in lighting, and Fonn knew she had only half a moment to reach them and defend the assassins’ strike. Fonn focused all her energy into her night vision, a grace of her elvish blood, and leapt to the side of her comrades.
An assassin’s blade skkkkirrrrrred off Fonn’s sword just as she stepped in front of Johan. She twisted down and across and blood poured from a cut that halved the killer from shoulder to hip. Fonn whirled her left blade in time to parry a strike from the assassin trying to flank Tajic, and with elvish speed she stabbed that attacker through the heart with her right-hand sword.
“Fonn, thank the angels,” Tajic said.
“I’m starting to be able to see again,” Johan murmured.
“Try to keep your eyes down. She’s going to try to bait us into looking up with that last assassin, then she’ll appear out of nowhere and blast us with her stone gaze,” Fonn hissed. “We have to keep that last killer away from the Legionnaire.”
There was a crash, and Tajic was on the ground. “What the—my ankle—” he swore, and Fonn lashed down with her sword. There was an ear-splitting shriek as Fonn realized she’d severed a serpentine tendril from the gorgon’s locks. The gorgon, with her snake-like supersenses, was able to move around in total darkness with her eyes closed as easy as elves through the trees during high noon. A movement caught Fonn’s eye behind Tajic.
“Johan!” she cried.
“On it,” the swiftblade said, diving toward the last assassin in a fury of blades. The killer fell back, and Johan feinted left to gain an advantageous position, throwing the assassin off her footing. The swiftblade’s sword cut neatly through the assassin’s throat, and Johan and Fonn stood sweating, warding Tajic on both sides.
“Doesn’t anyone have a light?” Fonn panted. Tajic and Johan shook their heads.
“I sent mine to be engraved and forgot to pick up a spare,” Tajic smiled. Fonn blinked in amazement. Engraved?
“I ran mine out of gas lighting cigars at the Rosy Raven after last night’s raid,” Johan shrugged. “What about you?” he eyed the half-elf.
“I was supposed to get mine fixed last week but my son buzzed me about something and I forgot,” Fonn admitted with a sigh.
A blast cracked the landing in two.
Fonn was thrown against a wall, and in the temporary flash from the explosion she got an impression of the gorgon creeping out from the tunnel. Stunned, the half-elf staggered to her feet, intending to call out to Johan. She felt sluggish, and something was stinging her neck. She reached up… she was bleeding, there was a dart… Fonn sagged down to one knee. She saw Tajic holding on to the edge of the landing, behind him was deep darkness. Who knows how deep that hole is… Where’s the swiftblade…
Fonn passed out.
Tajic hung by his fingertips to the broken edge of stone. The gorgon knelt above him.
“Blade of the Legion. The friend of my enemy is my enemy. Why don’t you forsake Aurelia and join me here, in the undercity. You are a man I could admire.” A scaled tendril caressed the side of Tajic’s face. He struggled not to flinch away.
“I have chosen my allegiance. What were you looking for at Sunhome?” Tajic cursed his glorious armor to the high heavens, secretly, in the depths of his soul, as he felt his fingers slipping.
“Your pitiful Izzet war machines, of course, Legionnaire,” the gorgon said silkily. “Nothing would bring me more pleasure than to fry Aurelia with her own ammunition.”
“Aurelia’s ammunition is hope. You will never have that, my lady,” Tajic gasped, clutching the rock with desperation.
“Give me your hand, Blade. I will help you up.” The gorgon’s hair slithered down and coiled itself around Tajic’s neck. The Guild Leader gagged and kicked, trying to find a foothold on the rock and failing. The snakes tightened. Tajic refused to give up, keeping his eyes closed tightly.
“I will bring peace to your soul, Tajic. Look at me,” the gorgon said. The tentacles constricted until no more air could pass through the Legionnaire’s throat. He felt the gorgon pulling him up, choking him into submission. His eyes would open reflexly in a few seconds, and she would turn him into part of her statuary. Kneeling at the edge of the landing with the gorgon above him and the abyss behind him, Tajic knew he could hold out no longer.
Tajic opened his eyes, every inch of his body pleading for breath. In front of him, he saw the gorgon’s eyes begin to flicker open, and the coils loosened slightly—
But then, he felt someone shove in front of him, and instead of Vraska’s face, he saw the back of Johan’s cloak...
Tajic gasped, he wanted to scream no, to move Johan out of harm’s way, but he was too weak. Vraska’s eyes opened, and the blast of supernatural light hit Johan full in the face. Stone crawled over the soldier with a hungry swiftness, and within a heartbeat a perfect rendering of Johan Clarke was teetering on the edge of the landing.
Vraska and Tajic realized at the same time what Johan had done. His stone fists were tangled in the gorgon’s snakey hair, his leg twined around hers. The swiftblade’s stone weight began to pull the gorgon over the edge.
“Aaargh!” Vraska swore, trying to claw her way free from the statue. Tajic summoned up all his remaining strength and pushed away from Vraska, bringing up his curved sword to slice weakly at the tendril that still coiled around his neck. It didn’t quite sever, but it was enough. Tajic kicked at the statue of Johan and prayed.
The man of stone and the gorgon wavered a moment more, then fell forward into the darkness.
Tajic didn’t hear an impact, so he could only assume the dropoff was one that reached all the way to the bowels of the undercity… or didn’t end at all.
What he did hear, with crystalline clarity, was Johan’s voice in his head.
“Any day with the Legion is a great day to die, sir.”
...to be continued in Chapter 5: Dark Horse
Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction