The walls of the Chamber of the Guildpact stretched upwards in stately, measured stories—each segment more serious and austere than the last. At the very pinnacle of the chamber was a tiny, tiny skylight covered in blue glass. The shaft of brightness it sent down to the floor was pitiful, at best. Mostly it served to illuminate the dust motes that floated unchecked throughout the chamber. It brought no relief or cheer to the chamber at all.
A cage. Jace Beleren sat in his deep and stately throne, behind a deep and serious desk, upon the Dais of Audience in the chamber. A cage of laws. A stack of paperwork higher than his head stood at his left hand. A decanter of water stood at his right.
Liliana would have laughed at me, asked why that wasn’t filled with irrimberry, or something even more potent. Jace stared at the decanter. He’d never been a heavy drinker—even the smallest amount of liquor seemed to alter his mental faculties in a way he didn’t like. But sometimes… sometimes he remembered the necromancer quaffing glass after glass at their favorite haunt in Faraval, and he wondered if he was ignoring some tried-and-true wisdom simply for the sake of indulging his control issues.
No. I can cope without it. Without crutches. Without anyone. A distant bell chimed. Jace checked a sigh and refilled his water glass. He picked up the pen on the desk. It was another petitioner. The fortieth of the day. Jace gritted his teeth. If I am the most talented mind-mage in the Multiverse… how can it be that this mundane job can best me? Jace knew the self-challenge was getting old, but it would have to serve for at least one more evening working late.
“Lady Yolanda Muirrh, Dawn Sect, Gateless Sovereign.” The dire voice of the Chamber herald echoed through the room and battered Jace’s consciousness.
“Admit the petitioner,” Jace said, with as much energy as he could throw at the last hearing of the day. Please let it be a short audience.
“Guildpact. The honor is mine.”
Jace raised his weary gaze and blinked. A lovely woman was kneeling humbly before the dais, her head bowed and her body prostrate, with no thought for her fine gown. Jace stumbled to stand, quickly, and extended his hand to her across his desk, even though he couldn’t reach her.
“Lady… Muirrh, please, that is not necessary,” he said. She glanced up at him and he was caught by her intense eyes, the color of tanzanite. Her russet, wavy hair was done up in diamond clips and the lush whorls shone in the dim light of his chamber.
“Please. Please stand.” Jace walked around his desk to assist her. He caught her by the arm and helped her rise, noticing that she smelled of vanilla and tangerine. She leaned against him as she stood, but stepped away from him as soon as she was stable. She curtsied in gratitude, every aspect of her proper and courteous. Jace turned away and went back to his monolithic seat, clearing his head of fragrant hair and oceanic eyes. The sovereign had a blatantly voluptuous figure, the polar opposite of Emmara’s reed-like frame. Why am I thinking about that? Jace gave himself a mental slap on the wrist, banishing thoughts of elegant blonde elves and luscious human women alike to the deepest recesses of the vaults of his mind. He situated himself in his chair and steeled himself to think about Lady Yolanda’s petition as he looked up at her once again.
“How can I help you?” he said amicably. At the same time, Jace reflexly reached out and scanned her mind. It was a precaution, and also the only outlet for his talents these days. He saw what Lady Yolanda had shopped for that day—a new fur and diamonds—and saw the frontage of a building where she’d conducted some business. It was The Foundation for Independent Youth in the Territories; a charitable organization that helped guildless youngsters elevate themselves out of poverty. He heard a few of her thoughts: “there should be a new scholarship for children interested in culinary arts…” and “these stones are overpriced considering their clarity, or lack of…” and “my, I didn’t expect the Guildpact to be so handsome, and so young…”
Jace got out of the Sovereign’s head. Nothing to see there—and nothing relevant to her petition.
“This is my first time at New Prahv in a long while,” Lady Muirrh was saying. “Thank you for your graciousness,” she said softly, her eyes downcast. Jace shifted in his seat and berated himself for fidgeting. The petitioner’s gown was avant garde—the latest in Ravnican fashion trends—with a bodice held mercilessly in place by rigid stays yet balanced by the softness of a dangerously low-cut bustline. A fishtail skirt clung to the petitioner’s hips, flaring into pale lavender froth below the knee. A glamorous silk-and-velveteen capelet covered Lady Yolanda’s shoulders, while a coronet of rose gold and copper topped her sunset-colored tresses.
“I’m eager to hear your petition,” Jace said, without thinking. Lady Muirrh bit her lip and looked away, self-conscious. “No, it’s no trouble—” Jace raised his hand reassuringly.
“It is late, I’m sorry, you’ve had a long day, no doubt,” the petitioner looked at the floor. Jace felt like a polyp on a lotleth.
“I’m fine.” Jace fixed the woman with his best, most authoritative gaze. “Tell me how I can help you.” He waited, pen poised above the empty parchment before him.
Yolanda shivered. “Thank you, Guildpact.” She raised her eyes to meet his, and Jace was again struck by the intensity of her blue-violet gaze. “I have a grievance: the Orzhov Syndicate is working with the Cult of Rakdos to purchase a large un-guilded tract in the Utvara reclamation zone.”
Jace quirked an eyebrow. “That’s not against the law.”
“Many guildless have toiled for years, working that land with little to show for it. Now I fear even that small sustenance is at risk. Should the new owners decide to oust the families—”
“Didn’t Grand Envoy Karlov own that land recently?”
“Years ago, Guildpact, your honor. She has been an absentee landlord at best. Under Fair Usage law, the land is in the jurisdiction of the Gateless.”
“So you’re concerned about the workers currently farming the land?”
“I would like some assurance that the new owners will offer them reasonable employment options, yes.”
“That seems fair. I’ll look into it.” Jace jotted down a note to visit the Utvara territory… tomorrow. He squelched a yawn before it started, lowering his head into his hand as he wrote in what he hoped was a studious and stately manner. He didn’t want to appear rudely disinterested in the sovereign’s case. He was simply tired.
“You’re tired,” Lady Yolanda said softly. Jace’s head snapped up with a jerk. It was almost as if she’d read his mind. No, I am obviously tired. Stop being a paranoid idiot. Jace put down his pen and smiled at the sovereign.
“Every day’s a long day when you’re the Guildpact,” he said. Ask her to dinner. Jace cleared his throat. No, wait—that’s completely inappropriate. Jace rose to his feet. “I… I’ll review this case first thing tomorrow and make sure the Utvaran guildless are protected.”
“Thank you, your honor,” the sovereign said, executing a deep bow that showed a highway’s worth of pillowy cleavage. Jace looked down at his desk.
“May we meet again,” he said formally, reaching reluctantly to ring the bell that indicated the audience was over. The doors at the end of the chamber banged open. Two vassal guards waited to escort Lady Yolanda out.
“We shall.” She smiled at Jace, gem-like eyes sparkling, before she turned and glided out in a flounce of lavender silk and cinnamon curls.
As the chamber doors slammed shut again, Jace sunk into his hard, awful obelisk of a chair. He jerked open a secret drawer at the bottom of his desk. Pulling out handfuls of notes at a time, he quickly spread his arcane research across the smooth, unyielding bureaucracy of his Guildpact desk. A cage. A trap. Jace shook his head. Glancing up at the sorry skylight, he guessed he had a couple hours until total darkness and bedtime…
Jace Beleren, known also as the Mind Sculptor, Berrim, the Architect of Thought, the Living Guildpact, and, to a select few—master of the Infinite Consortium—excitedly shuffled through his “extracurricular” work notes. Life as the embodiment of all law on Ravnica left him little personal time. Once, he’d walked freely between planes anytime a curiosity struck him. Now, he penciled in his trips in encoded text on his calendar perhaps once a month… if he was lucky. Some nights he lay awake, alone in bed, wondering if solving the dragon’s maze had been the worst “success” of his life.
The blue-robed mage spoke a word of magic and lit a sphere that floated over to hover loyally above his desk and the tempest of papers that now covered it. Jace eagerly picked up a page titled “deep cellular structures of mana-weft in the sliver race” and began to plan a trip to the relevant areas of Dominaria…
A minute later, Jace’s head nodded down toward the desk to rest upon his arms, the abandoned notes creating an arcane nest around the tired young man.
Jace, the most dominant mind-mage in the Multiverse, was sound asleep.
Liliana stumbled into Venser’s floor of 111 Sterling. The renovations were going well. Since the new bed couldn’t be moved to a lower floor, and Liliana wouldn’t deign to live anywhere but the top of the building, an entirely brand-new story was being added. Liliana had big plans for her floor. She would decorate it exactly as she wanted, with all the niceties that most accurately reflected her personality. Sure, it was all exposed wood and studs now, but within the week it would become her sanctuary. Wonder what ole buzzkill has done with his space? Shoving open the door marked with a silver (Karn’s?) insignia, Liliana nearly fell into the artificer’s neat and minimalist room.
“Vense.” The necromancer cut a winding and unbalanced path through the darkness. A low table materialized in front of her, cruelly banging her shin. Swearing, Liliana fell to the floor. With a scathing look, she terminated the offending piece of furniture. Wood chips and lacquer went up in a red-tinged pouf.
“VENSE.” Liliana tripped to the artificer’s bedside. She clutched at the pale shoulder visible above the blankets.
“Uuuuuunghh.” Venser tried to roll away from her touch. Liliana scowled and dug her fingernails deeper into his flesh.
“Aaargh! Damn it, Lil—what the frogging Leshrac’s ass are y—”
“Looook. I brought you a present.”
Venser sat up, hands upraised to ward off any collateral damage that might accompany his housemate’s “gift.”
“You are such a cunt,” Liliana said, snickering. “Look! Isn’t this nice?” Venser braced himself as the necromancer wrapped her arms around him. The artificer’s head spun, bewildered at his housemate’s actions. What is she… what is going on… does she want to—
There was a metallic click. Venser heard Liliana sigh in satisfaction. He didn’t move.
“See, look how nicethatlooks,” Liliana said. Venser chanced a glance down. He was clad in a cloak, the fine fabric draping elegantly over his angular shoulders. The deep, understated blue reflected the streetlight that shone through a gap in his curtains.
“Oh. Thanks, Lil—Liliana.” Venser sat up straighter and caught her eye in the shadows. His housemate’s gaze glittered fuschia and indigo, unreadable in the darkness. “This is… nice. I’ve never had a—”
“I know,” Liliana murmured. She reached towards him, grasped the hood of the cloak and pulled it up over his hair. The front edge of the generous hood just grazed his brow. Venser tilted his head, smiling gently at her. What was this all about? He reached out his hand to her without realizing it… until she withdrew. She cringed backwards, staring at him.
“Hey, are you okay?” Venser said. He peered through the shadows. She looked genuinely troubled. He reached out to her again. “Is everything alri—”
“I’m fine,” Liliana snapped, standing. Venser felt the warmth flee from where she’d been sitting, her body having left an oasis of disturbance in his blankets.
The necromancer was across the room in seconds. Venser heard the door open.
“Goodnight?” he called after her.
“Sure,” Liliana replied.
The door slammed shut with a deathly rattle, and Venser touched the edge of the dark blue cloak that hung around him. He imagined he could hear stomping from the floor above him… the clink of glass, the crash of a cabinet closing. The creak of a couch.
Venser exhaled a deep, mystified sigh. The artificer lay back in his bed without bothering to remove the cloak. Though exhausted, he struggled to find the embrace of restful sleep again.
“You look like hell,” the sphinx purred. Jace threw up his hands in resignation and stumbled forward into Isperia’s chamber. The Guildmaster of the Azorius Senate looked down her feline nose at him and sniffed. “And you didn’t bathe,” she chided.
“Didn’t sleep well,” Jace mumbled, sitting down heavily atop one of the sphinx’s massive paws. Isperia curved her neck, looking down at the mage fondly, and gave him a gigantic, wet lick across the head with her rough tongue.
“Ouch!” Jace shrieked, jumping up and clutching his hair dazedly. Isperia chuckled.
“Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. You just look so tasty and adorable when you’re downtrodden.”
“What if I licked you everytime I—oh, nevermind.” Jace slumped to the floor. Isperia was laughing, the sensual rolling sound like wind across a balmy isle in the sea. Jace chuckled, too. He was ridiculous this morning, and he knew it.
“Going out to Utvara,” he said, scrubbing his face with his hand. “Want to come with m—”
“No,” said Isperia. “But I will.” The sphinx lifted her tail and flicked it across a giant gong. The metallic boom reverberated throughout New Prahv and Jace winced. A few moments later a spirit appeared, carrying a gleaming silver coffee service. Jace took a cup gratefully. “Syndicate’s best,” Isperia said, with a wink. “I know how you like it dark.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jace pouted, slurping coffee like it was going out of style.
“Sphinxes don’t even know what we mean ourselves, most of the time.” Isperia bent her great head down and ate the entire sugar bowl.
Lavinia, formerly of the Tenth, now right-hand to the Living Guildpact, bludgeoned the knocker once more.
“Jace,” she called out. “JACE.” Lavinia’s cast a blazing blue-eyed glare at the door. The Azorius Prime Arrester gave it up and kicked the door open.
“What?” Jace snapped, looking up with mussed dark hair hanging into his strained dark-circled eyes.
“Lunch is served, Living Guildpact, sir,” Lavinia announced formally.
A parade of homunculi and vedalken and specters filed in with treats on silver platters.
“I’m not hungry,” Jace said, returning his attention to the document at his desk.
“Yes, you are,” Lavinia retorted, drawing her sword. She strode toward Jace’s dais.
“I have to finish this. I promised the Sovereign—” Jace wrote doggedly, his brow deeply creased as he concentrated on the legal terminology and proper wording.
“If you don’t take a bite of that meat pastry right now, I’m going to cut off that vedalken’s hand.” Lavinia raised her sword. The vedalken in question paled and shoved a meat pastry toward Jace’s face.
“Lavinia, this is truly unbecoming for the Guildpa—”
“Three… two…” the arrester’s eyes glittered.
Jace bit the pastry. Delicious flavors of lamb and barley blossomed in his mouth, a comforting warmth spread from his tongue to his throat. The mind-mage chewed reverently, closing his eyes.
“Leave all that food, just put it down on his desk. And leave,” Lavinia ordered. The servers did as they were told.
“You shouldn’t be so harsh with them,” Jace said, taking another bite of the meat pie.
“You shouldn’t be so concerned with how I address the help when you can’t even remember to nourish yourself properly.” Lavinia stood next to the desk, watching with the gaze of a hawk, making sure Jace ate some of everything.
“I’ve got to finish this document…”
“Sign it, it’s done. You’re done.”
“Lavinia, really, you can’t talk to me that way in front of—”
“Until my master demonstrates he can take care of himself, I’ll talk to him however I please,” she replied, snapping the scroll shut after Jace signed, before the ink had even dried.
“Please take that to the Sovereign, Lady M—”
“Yes, yes, I know. The Gateless lady. The one with the perfume and the pale silks and the Schism’s blessing for tits.”
“Good afternoon, Guildpact.” The arrester bowed deeply and humbly, and left.
Jace was too tired to do anything else about Lavinia’s purposeful insubordinance. He even laughed to himself. He was well aware that Lavinia would lay down her life to defend him. And, truthfully, he’d earned much of her tirade and criticisms. If it made her feel better to be so heavy-handed with him, he’d gladly play the hapless boss. But the document was finished, the guildless in Utvara would be protected…
Small victories, Jace thought. Is that what I am, now? A collection of small victories.
The planeswalker told himself it was better than being a collection of failures, or a pawn in someone else’s game, or a slave to a madman. There was honor in being slave to the city; a servant of the greater good. Of the people. Jace knew this intellectually, and tried to make himself fit the austerity of his desk chair and the empty angles of the grand governmental room.
The Guildpact Ball was approaching. New Prahv would play host to the most important and influential leaders from all across Ravnica. Jace would have the opportunity to meet them in person, touch their minds, and get a feel for the state of affairs on the plane. Lady Muirrh would certainly be there. There were many preparations to oversee. Jace picked up a note marked “URGENT” off the top of the stack of notes on his desk.
Guildpact, please indicate with as much haste as you can afford, at your earliest convenience, of course, which punch glasses you would like to use at the Guildpact Ball.
Wiron, Master of Events, New Prahv
Jace picked up the next message, marked “CLASSIFIED”
Guildpact, the south latrine has been determined to be out-of-order indefinitely by the Izzet plumbers we had out today. We are afraid that four functioning latrines might be insufficient for the attendance at the Ball. Humbly request your opinion on whether to order in a rental latrine, attempt to repair the old one using mercenary guildless plumbers, or run with only four for the event. There is also the option of calling in Golgari specialists… but we were unsure of whether this would be politically correct due to the recent attacks.
Immediate reply most appreciated.
Azorius Maintenance Group
The Golgari attacks. Would Vraska make another attempt on his life again anytime soon? Reaching for his glass of water as he focused his renowned mental energies on the problem of toilet capacity per guest, Jace caught himself hoping that she would.
...to be continued in Chapter 6: Like a Lady
Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction