“I’m ready for my carriage, Jacob.” The soft voice was eerily audible even across the distance of the expansive board room. It was a distinctly feminine voice, rich, persuasive, low-toned, and even at such a modest volume carried an indefinable authority.
“Of course, Grand Envoy.” The spectral manservant tapped a sun-shaped pin on his lapel. “Lord Karlov’s carriage, please.” The message was whisked via ghost channels down to the receiving lapel pin of Phlorxt, the homunculus Master of Horse for House Karlov.
Jacob, a former journalist, had tenaciously pursued an interview with the Grand Envoy and had gotten this job instead. Some would say he was murdered and forced into indentured servitude, but as Jacob saw it he got the career opportunity of a lifetime. As Lord Karlov’s right-hand man, he not only saw to all her personal needs but also served as the link to her agents in Agyrem, often handling very sensitive intelligence.
Jacob flitted across the board room in the blink of an eye to pull Lord Karlov’s chair for her. He couldn’t imagine a better way to earn a living. As a starving newspaperman, Jacob had often watched in awe from his basement printing-press room when Orzhov processions marched past to New Prahv for a hearing. On good days, he’d catch a glimpse of the famed advokist Teysa Karlov through the grime of his window, her dark hair gleaming in the sun, her inscrutably sharp eyes taking in every detail of the street. On long nights when Jacob’s hands were covered in ink and he was drained from writing, yet still had many hours and miles to walk turning out his latest handbill, visions of Teysa’s face would float into his consciousness and help him pass the time. What would she have studied if not law? What academic discipline would she name as her favorite? What flavor did she choose when she went to the creamery? Would she answer his latest request for an interview?
Now he was paid to watch over the advokist who had once been as distant and unreachable as the moon. Jacob felt a religious dedication to caring for the intimate details of Teysa’s life and business operations, and he was a devout atheist. Jacob reported for duty every day with a giddy heart—but of course showed none of that effervescence during work. Lord Karlov preferred to be surrounded by calm and elegance, and nothing gave Jacob more pleasure than doing everything exactly the way the Grand Envoy liked it done.
“Thank you, Jacob,” Teysa said. Jacob steadied the Grand Envoy with one hand—just a light touch on her elbow—and held her cane in the most convenient place for her to reach it with the other. Jacob strove to be helpful without patronizing the Lord. Her bad leg was both a plague and a badge of honor and nobility, as it was caused by her Orzhov blood—a sort of inherited mark of legitimacy. Disability and other ailments were common to the Orzhov houses, going hand-in-hand with intergenerational wealth and power.
Teysa took the cane and headed toward the doors with an amazingly smooth gait considering her deformity. Jacob walked next to and slightly behind her, keeping an exact pace with the Grand Envoy that had become second nature after many years of service.
“You’re not staring at my bustle again back there, are you Jacob?” Teysa joked. Jacob smiled to himself.
“But of course I am, my Lord. I was under the impression it was in my job description.”
“I thought I told you specifically to only stare at my bosom. You know I’m self-conscious about all the weight I’m gaining in my posterior region.”
“I will correct my behavior, my Lord.”
“See to it, or I’ll correct it for you.”
“I dream of that day, my Lord.”
“Now you’re just angling for Employee of the Month again, Jacob.”
“You know me too well, my Lord.”
Jacob took a long step to reach the gigantic ebony double-doors of the board room before Teysa did. He pushed them open with ease and—Jacob noted with pride—they swung soundlessly outward to the hall. The hinges had been squeaky for years until Jacob was hired and took it upon himself to fix them so they would cease to annoy the Lord. Jacob kept his eyes properly downcast as Teysa passed him to enter the hall.
“Thank you, Jacob,” she said. Jacob fell into step at her side once again and they lapsed into familiar silence.
The corridor was dauntingly long and carpeted in the finest rugs money could buy. When he’d first started working for House Karlov, Jacob had tried to convince Teysa to commission a palanquin to ease her navigation of the sprawling estate. Teysa, however, had explained to him that the lack of exercise would only quicken her physical degeneration. She refused to be a victim of her disability, she said, and Jacob’s respect for her had risen to new heights that day.
Yet, in small and subtle ways—without going against her wishes—he had gradually made the estate grounds more friendly to her manner of movement. The smooth ivory rugs they now walked on were one example. Jacob had noted the old super plush carpets, with their deep and thick pile, had often caused Teysa to trip. Under the pretense of switching out the hall rugs due to rat damage (rats that Jacob had released expressly to chew the carpet), Jacob had commissioned the tread-backed, durable, gorgeously patterned new runners from the finest weavers in Dravhoc, and thus ensured the lady of the house could walk her own grand hall without any more awkward or painful stumbles.
Late morning light shone through the twenty-three stained-glass windows that lined the north wall of the corridor. Myriad shapes in a rainbow of colors scattered across the white rugs, making it seem they walked on a path of gems.
“That’s beautiful,” Teysa remarked of the light patterns on the floor. Much of the Karlov family estate was dark wood, iron scrollwork, and prone to hoarding shadows. This hall, at least, was just a bit brighter.
“Any word from Kos?” Teysa asked, though Jacob knew she already knew the answer. If he’d had any word, he would have already told her.
“No, my Lord. I expect he must be in the throes of another undercover operation.”
“I’m curious to meet his new hire.”
“As am I. Anyone who can stand to be Agrus’s partner is someone I want to shake hands with.”
“Oh come, Jacob, he’s not that bad.” Teysa laughed.
“Kos is the cranky uncle I never wished I had.” Jacob screwed up his face in an imitation of the Wojek’s well-known “I’ve got bad news” expression. Teysa laughed harder. They had nearly reached the spiral staircase down to the main floor. Jacob extended his arm to Teysa should she care to take it. “And I’m a man of words, he’s a man of swords. The universe has decreed we must hate each other’s guts, in a purely conceptual sense... that translates surprisingly well to reality.”
“Jacob, I have yet to regret hiring you.”
“Poor reporters have a lot of useless skills that Grand Envoys apparently find entertaining.”
“I’m tired. Carry me, would you?”
Jacob quickly whispered the words to a simple enchantment that solidified his ghostly form enough for him to bear Teysa’s weight. Slipping one arm around his Lord’s back and the other beneath her knees in a single, confident motion, Jacob lifted Teysa Karlov off the ground. She cradled her cane across her body, and Jacob chose to levitate so as not to jar his silk-and-satin-clad “burden” in the slightest. Then the ghost and the Grand Envoy spiraled down in smooth supernatural curves as they descended the long staircase.
Lord Karlov’s personal carriage was ready and waiting, polished to a severe gleam, when Jacob and Teysa appeared on the steps of the veranda. Teysa again stood under her own power, leaning on her cane. She never allowed herself to be carried in front of the other help.
Phlorxt, Master of Horse, cracked a slender whip and all the stablehands snapped to attention. Even the horses—sublime, amazing specimens prone to diva antics—quieted and stood proud and still, ready to carry their mistress to her desired destination.
“Very good. At ease, Phlorxt,” Teysa said with a smile. She’d said the same thing for over a decade to the little homunculus every time she entered the stable grounds, and Phlorxt had yet to relax even once in Teysa’s presence.
Phlorxt blinked her one huge citrine-colored eye and bowed stiffly to Teysa. “Grand Envoy.” The homunculus said, sweating in a gold-threaded quilted vest, formal woolen shirt with cravat, and velvet breeches. She then returned to standing at strict attention. Teysa muted a grin as Jacob assisted her down the wide veranda steps that were bordered by lush hedges of black roses.
The sun of early spring felt exceptionally good on Teysa’s face as she limped across the courtyard. She recalled last year’s damp weather and shuddered inwardly. While not yet middle-aged, being only sixty-one, Teysa had noticed that things like cold bothered her much more lately. All the physicians told her she was in perfect health, so Teysa had to assume it was the blood. She took in the view of the stables, spotless and orderly thanks to Phloxt, as usual. The carriage team was a stunning combination of solid black and white geldings.
With Ravnica being as crowded as it was, if you were an average Jane you had to walk under your own power, or take non-pollutive public transportation such as the new fully artificial Izzet lokopedes. Anyone who used archaic animal-based transit had to pay for their own pooper-scoopers, or else had to be government employees (such as the Boros roc-riders) where the maintenance costs where built into the tax system. Horses, more tempermental than dromads and notoriously frequent defecators, were an extreme luxury of only the ludicrously wealthy. Travel by horse-drawn carriage was banned in most areas of the plane.
Unless you were the Grand Envoy, of course.
Jacob was holding the carriage door open. Teysa, through a twisting and bracing of her body that she’d come up with years ago as a teenager dealing with a crippled leg, maneuvered herself up the carriage’s runner step and into the cabin. It took an extreme amount of willpower and cane shenanigans—especially now that she weighed about thirty more pounds than she did at sixteen. Plopping onto the black velvet cushioned seat and exhaling with exasperation and relief, she nodded at Jacob to close the door. He complied, and though her manservant’s face hadn’t changed in the slightest as she leveraged herself into the carriage, Teysa suspected Jacob disapproved of the fact that she disallowed him to simply lift her in. The thought brought a smirk of chagrin to the Grand Envoy’s face. But, it was of no consequence. Teysa heard the snap of the reigns and the carriage rolled forward. Jacob was an excellent driver. She could forgive him his concerns for her comfort.
The baroque vistas of the Karlov estate slid away past the carriage’s securely enchanted tinted windows, and, after a pause at the gated entrance of heavy stone, gave way to the diverse bustle of Ravnica’s streets. Teysa felt the presence of the huge geist that followed in the carriage’s wake—another security precaution. Not that Jacob wasn’t extremely formidable on his own (she’d seen to that when she’d first extracted him), but you just never knew when you might need backup muscle in the city.
The gold-plated carriage ascended smoothly through the wide streets of Dravhoc and descended just as easily over the sloped twists of Nightveil, down into the construction and noise and cobblestones of the Tenth, and finally out into the relatively pastoral expanse that was Ovitizia. The trip took over four hours, but Teysa considered it multitasking time. There was no better way to stay in touch with the state of the city than by traveling slowly on the ground.
Congestion and delays allowed her to observe the neighborhood locals and eavesdrop on conversations. The methodical pace of carriage travel meant she could soak in the state of development in those neighborhoods, and keep a sharp eye out for real estate investment opportunities. And, when there was nothing of interest to see, she could let her mind wander to other obligations, tasks, and deals—such as the very promising Utvaran winery project.
Ovitzia rolled into view. The entire purpose of the district was to emulate the “open space” plus private property illusion, so wide rustic streets, sweeping vistas and towering trees culminating in frothy green canopy were de rigueur. Mansions were spaced at mandated intervals, giving each a humongous bubble of distance from its neighbors compared to other areas of Ravnica, where it was most common for everyone to live atop, below, or sardined next to their peers.
Jacob brought the carriage to a smooth stop in front of a modest (by Ovitzia’s standards) sprawling ranch house.
Teysa took a moment to observe the dwelling. It was the color of sweet potatoes and sturdily constructed from large blocks of stone. Intensely yellow blooms (daffodils, ridiculously fecund and therefore cheap during this time of year) and bright green grass covered much of the property. The Grand Envoy would have guessed it the dwelling of a bourgeois merchant, if she hadn’t known better. The type who came from a family of tulip brokers, and had parlayed the gains into something approximating true wealth.
The carriage door opened and Teysa took Jacob’s hand, stabbing the ground with her cane. She lurched down to the lush green turf with only a minor curse.
“Thank you, Jacob.” Teysa shook him off and stood as straight as she could manage. Jacob bowed and stood aside. A cobbly walkway led to the front door of the ranch house. Teysa sighed inaudibly and began the trek forward.
The sunshine that had seemed so refreshing at Karlov Manor was now simply sweat-inducing and oppressive. Teysa longed for the cool shadows of a cloister as she finally reached the door of the dwelling. She rapped on the carved oak with her cane.
A pale cerulean eye appeared in the peephole in the door.
“Matron Meamar? It is I, Teysa Karlov.”
“And HOW are the SONGBIRDS faring?” The words shot forth loudly from the peephole in a heavily accented, distinctly vedalken voice.
“Transcendentally,” Teysa answered naturally.
The door opened just wide enough for the Grand Envoy to wedge herself through the gap, into the interior shadows of the strange house. It was, at least, cooler than the weather outside.
“I’m no good at this. My sincerest apologies.” The matron stood in a plainly appointed parlor, blue hands clasped in front of her body. She spoke in a quick, hushed voice. Teysa shook her head, eyeing the walls and furniture suspiciously and then tap-tap-tapping her cane along the floor and fixtures as she walked in a slow circle around the old vedalken woman.
The verity circle flared white, the dowsing spell pulsed black. Teysa flicked a finger and a geist emerged from her cane to quickly do a circuit of recon around the room. When the advokist was satisfied she was alone with the matron and there were no tricks, interlopers, or eavesdroppers present, she recalled the geist and turned to Meamar with a smile.
“You can revert, now, if it would be more comfortable.” Teysa nodded encouragingly at the other woman.
The vedalken’s eyes flicked anxiously around the room. She rubbed her worn blue palms together and her alien features sagged with fatigue. Teysa felt a visceral surge of sympathy for the woman. Clearly this state of affairs was a taking a huge toll on her well-being.
“Trust me,” Teysa said. “It’s safe. The Orzhov specialize in this sort of thing, you know.” She winked at the matron, who responded with a nervous smile. “I have soul-eating backup outside if anything goes wrong.” Teysa made a throat-slicing motion with her right hand that brought a titter from the vedalken. When the woman still didn’t comply, Teysa sighed and raised an eyebrow.
“And… I don’t have all afternoon. I have other obligations that commence within the hour.” Teysa shifted her weight and pointedly looked back at the door.
“No, no, please, I want to talk to you. It’s just that—I just… this is all so…”
“Strange? Foreign? Nerve-wracking? I understand. But you have to trust someone, and it might as well be me.” Teysa fixed the vedalken woman with expression Number Sixty-Four: Child, I am about to take you over my knee, for your own damn good.
The wrinkled blue woman nodded and closed her eyes. Her fingers moved in a subtle pattern in the air, and her lips moved slightly as she exhaled a word of power. Teysa’s eyes gleamed. Good. She’s listening to me. The first step in a profitable professional relationship.
An ethereal veil of golden effervescence cascaded down over the vedalken matron. Teysa watched, with the studiously neutral face of those who’ve seen more than enough in one lifetime.
The lined blue skin peeled away as the magic dissipated, leaving behind a slender, boyish frame with a complexion of peaches and cream. Waves of blonde hair rippled over angular shoulders—hair the color of wheat fields at twilight. The woman blinked, and eyes like a storm-fraught ocean stared back at Teysa, set in a face that was linear and soft at the same time. The elf’s coral lips pursed in apology; she grimaced and shrugged.
The advokist’s expression didn’t change, but she nodded slowly in acknowledgement of the gesture of trust. The elf was a hunted persona, and something of a minor celebrity since Jace Beleren had become the Living Guildpact. Teysa had studied her client and knew everything this woman had gone through, sacrificed, and been a player in recently. Teysa knew what it was like to be trapped in one’s own life. Her uncle and her former assistant Melisk had seen to that.
“It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Emmara Tandris,” Teysa said. The elf smiled tiredly in response.
“Thank you for coming,” Emmara said, and wavered where she stood. Her face paled, though she remained standing with a stubborn rigidity in her spine. The exertion of keeping up the glamour, and the alias... Teysa thought.
“I’d prefer to sit, if it’s alright with you?” Teysa leaned heavily on her cane and nodded toward the table and uncomfortable looking chairs behind Emmara.
“Oh, of course, I’m being so rude.” Emmara murmured, stepping back and gesturing wanly toward the dining room.
“Not at all. My leg is simply weak. Thank you.” Teysa wondered if the emissary of the Conclave would faint before their meeting was concluded. Teysa stumped over to the table and slid onto a chair. She waited for Emmara to do the same, but the elf was lost in thought, staring at nothing as she twisted a bracelet around one of her lean wrists. Teysa noticed that Emmara’s breathing was shallow. Her pale green dress hung limply on her torso. The elf clearly wasn’t eating or sleeping well.
“I can’t offer you my services if you’re dead,” Teysa said. Emmara’s head jerked around and a thin line formed between her wing-shaped brows. She looked warily at Teysa, like a threatened doe. Teysa shook her head slowly at the elf woman. “Your professional obligations don’t permit you to waste away—it’s the curse of a powerful woman. When was the last time you ate?”
Emmara blushed, sunrise spreading across her fine cheekbones. She furrowed her brow and looked up at the ceiling in thought. “Day before… yesterday?” she finally said.
Teysa stared at her coolly, trapping Emmara’s cerulean glance with her own steely gaze. “You are the emissary of the Conclave. Do you really think jeopardizing your health is appropriate?”
Emmara’s soft blush turned to a deeply tinted, rosy anger that spread upwards. Teysa grinned inwardly, maintaining a totally stoic expression.
“Sit down,” Teysa said. Emmara obeyed. “And eat something.” Teysa blinked. An errand-geist appeared on her shoulder. “Get Lady Emmara whatever it is she would care to break her fast with.”
“Yes, Grand Envoy,” the geist whispered. It turned its gaunt face to Emmara, awaiting her order. Emmara looked at the specter distastefully and scooted back in her chair, hands clasped nervously in her lap. Under Teysa’s relentless stare, the elf woman swallowed and fidgeted, apparently having an awful time thinking of something she wanted to consume. Teysa, meanwhile, could already smell the stag steaks she’d have Jacob grill when they got back to Karlov Manor. Perhaps sprinkled with fireroot flake, definitely a garlic-wine reduction...
“I’d like a rice bun, please, and a whole papaw fruit, if it isn’t too much trouble.” Emmara was looking down at the table and wouldn’t meet Teysa’s gaze.
“Go.” Teysa ordered the geist, adding, “Bring back some roast rabbit, too. The Lady needs some protein.” The errand-geist bowed its head and disappeared with a fizzing flare. At Emmara’s glare, Teysa shrugged. The advokist watched as Emmara smoothed her hair with both hands and then commenced staring out the window in silence. Strange, Teysa thought. Beautiful. Strong, but brittle. Very different than Liliana. Perhaps that’s what our Guildpact likes about her.
Teysa reached into a pocket of her gown and took out a small journal and a raven’s quill. She cleared her throat. Emmara ignored her. The elf was engrossed in the vista of the window. Teysa followed her look, saw the humble viridian lawn; the cheap yellow daffodils swaying in the evening’s breeze. Teysa peered back at her client. Emmara’s eyes were glistening and far away. She looked as though she were casting her entire soul out the window in her gaze.
“How many days since you’ve been outside?” Teysa asked softly.
“Seventy-four,” Emmara said without hesitation.
Teysa’s quill made a note in the journal. The pen was fairly self-sufficient, requiring direction only in extreme cases of nuanced meaning. Otherwise, it could transcribe everything perfectly. Teysa spoke a word and the pen dropped to the table, still and lifeless. The Grand Envoy closed her journal with pale fingers.
“So you want to depose Jace, your ex-lover, so you can go outside again?” Teysa said, a deep chill in her voice. Emmara blinked, but kept her eyes fixed on the sky visible through the window glass.
“We were never lovers.”
“But you entertained the idea.”
“He’s a human.”
“But you entertained the idea.”
“Yes. But it would never happen. Calomir was my—”
“He’s dead. So, care to tell me why Jace shouldn’t be the Living Guildpact, other than the fact you can’t take a stroll whenever you’d like?”
Emmara whirled on Teysa with a fury like a monsoon. Her hands unclenched holding green fire, her eyes burned white-hot and she leveled her words at the advokist as if she loosed siege-bolts with every breath.
“I am paying for something I never did. I have given a life of service—in return I get a life of imprisonment! Jace was a friend, a confidant. Yes, I thought him attractive. Yes, I thought him intelligent. I believed he could help the Conclave. I loved Calomir! I helped Jace, healed him—not without affection—but now the entire city thinks I am the leverage they can use to get to the Guildpact… And thus, here I am, trapped in a false identity, a home that is no home, a life that is not mine, looking over my shoulder, sleepless nights listening for intruders and staring into shadows stretching on and on into eternity…”
Teysa said nothing.
“Do you know what it is like for an elf to never feel the sun, Grand Envoy? Do you know what it is like for an elf to exist in a home made of mortar rather than the living bough? Do you know what it is like to feel yourself dying in every moment, suffocating, trying to remember everything that was once beautiful as it slips from your mind, even as you grasp for it, your heart full of terror…”
“Sure do,” Teysa said flippantly. “I’m an Orzhov cripple.” She grinned at Emmara, who choked on her own rage. The elf’s eyes flared with blinding light and a slender hand awash in pulsing green magic arced toward the Grand Envoy. Teysa yawned.
The Grand Envoy caught Emmara’s wrist in her palm. With a thought, Teysa sent chilling waves of stillness through the elf’s satiny skin. Emmara gasped and started to collapse. Teysa lurched to her feet, stumbled forward, and managed to catch the elf and lean her down in her chair, gently resting Emmara’s head on the chair back while nearly falling to the floor herself.
Teysa grabbed the edge of the table for support, wondering how she’d managed to rise from her chair without her cane. Gritting her teeth in a cold sweat, she lowered herself painfully back down into her seat. Just then the errand-geist appeared in the parlor.
“Fruit, pastry, and roast rabbit,” the specter whispered tonelessly. Emmara’s eyes fluttered as she raised a hand to her forehead in a daze.
“Set it in front of her and get her some water!” Teysa snapped irritably. The geist floated away toward the kitchenette with unhurried indifference. “Lady Emmara, are you well?” Teysa asked, lowering her voice and leaning forward solicitously. The elf opened her eyes and sat up slowly, straightening as some color returned to her face.
Emmara inclined her head toward Teysa. “Yes, I’m fine, thank you for snapping me out of my doldrums—”
“I am sincerely, deeply apologetic it had to be done that way.”
“I understand. I think you chose correctly—I have been completely mired in my own self-pity the last few months, and with no one to talk to, it had reached an acute point.”
“May I see your wrist?”
Emmara extended her reed-slender arm to Teysa and the Grand Envoy examined it expertly, putting two fingers on the elf’s pulse and checking the skin for spectral burns. A wry smile crossed Teysa’s face as she turned Emmara’s delicate wrist in her hand.
“That green fire you brandished at me was pretty formidable. How can you contain such furious power in these little bird-bones?”
Emmara blushed. Just then the errand-geist finally returned with water, Teysa leaned back in her chair, and the elf lowered her face to the glass to take a sip.
The Orzhov Guildmaster rotated her neck stiffly and sighed. “Since I already got your confession, or non-confession as it were, we have little business left to conclude here. So eat while I talk at you. That’s an order, as your advokist.” Emmara snorted but obediently picked up the pastry.
Teysa rose and limped around the table. The verity circle and several other enchantments sprung up instantly, invisibly, around the two women. “Off the record, I don’t care for Jace as the Guildpact, either, my Lady.” Teysa had returned to facing Emmara. “He knows about as much about economic policy as a catacomb slug. Possibly less.”
Emmara protested through a bite of rice bun. “Oh, that’s becwauz he’s alwfays studying—”
“You don’t need to defend him. I know what his true calling is and where his real talents lie. He’s ill-fit for his current job, is what I’m saying. Disagree?”
The elf looked down at her food.
“That’s what I thought,” Teysa said, rapping her cane in satisfaction on the floor. “So you are suffering needlessly. And we have three choices: Let you keep suffering undercover while Jace blunders through his day job indefinitely; “kill” you off then completely restructure your identity incognito into something—hopefully—tolerable, thus achieving the semblance of a normal lifestyle for you; or… remove Jace as the Guildpact and let you go back to being Emmara.”
The Selesyna woman choked on a piece of rabbit and hastily gulped it down with some water.
“The reason I acceded to your request to meet, Lady Tandris, is because I too would like to see Jace employed in some other capacity. For personal reasons, and for those of my guild. I have a very powerful ally in this undertaking, but to be honest, we would need some help from the Conclave to make it successful.”
Emmara stopped eating. She thought of the last time Jace had appeared on her doorstep, beaten and bleeding, near death. She thought of all the times prior to that one. He’d always crack a smile in greeting, no matter how grievous his wounds, looking up into her horrified face with a gleam in his sapphire eyes and a bad joke—barely jokes, really—on his lips. He had a way of curling up in his sleep and throwing his arm over his face that had always reminded her of a cat. And beneath her fingers, when she’d removed his clothing and made contact with his flesh in order to heal him, his skin trembled—soft and cool—as if he knew, even through layers of unconsciousness and sleep spells, that she was touching him.
Then, a flash of fragmented memory seared across her mind—a rainstorm, a lightning-laced man in Izzet colors, Berrim… no, Jace… angry, his hood blowing off in the wind. His mouth formed silent words, his eyes were dark and sorry, very sorry… her heart skipped in terror, but she didn’t know why.
Biting her lip, Emmara turned her face up to meet Teysa’s gaze.
“I know you are Selesnya to the core,” Teysa said, gently. “If Jace had been good for Ravnica, your decision would have been different.” Emmara nodded, unable to speak, and put up her hand to cover her eyes.
“You choose your identity over his. There’s no shame in that. It’s not even his true identity—it’s this current one he’s gotten himself stuck in. Who knows, perhaps we’ll even be saving him from the situation, doing him a favor. Saving him from himself—Obzedat willing—he’s such a bureaucratic disaster in boots that I can imagine a scenario where—”
“He won’t be hurt?” Emmara still hid her face.
“Absolutely not. That had to be one of the pillars of the agreement before my silent partner consented to work with me. Apparently she thought I might bear Jace some ill will after that scene in New Prahv during the maze running.”
“Well, do you?” Emmara’s eyes were glittering as she peered at Teysa.
The Grand Envoy huffed. “It was pretty annoying to be strongarmed like that by such a cocky little blue-balled bastard. You were there. Was that really an appropriate way to talk to someone of my stature?”
“You were about to cast a spell that was going to suck us into a black void or something equally as vile.”
“Ah, there was that.” Teysa grinned. “He misunderstood. I eradicate all my new friends into the abyss. It’s my trademark icebreaker.” Emmara’s mouth twitched into a tiny smile. “You going to eat that?” Teysa nodded at the remainder of a rabbit leg on the elf’s plate. Emmara shook her head and pushed the rest of the meal across the table. Teysa snapped her fingers.
The errand-geist materialized again and Teysa jerked her head at it. “Go find some wine.” She took an elegant bite of the rabbit. Chewing thoughtfully, Teysa surveyed the room. It was good quality wood, plainly stained, serviceable. Everything in the house appeared to be practical brown, an aesthetic befitting a vedalken matron who’d scraped her way up the wealth ladder. There were books around, but they were run-of-the-mill biographies and fiction, also stuff you’d expect to see in the home of a merchant of average intelligence. Teysa recalled something she’d heard from a friend… that Emmara had had an extensive and strange library in her original Ovitzia home, full of first editions and arcane epics.
Swallowing rabbit with relish, Teysa took a sip of the sweet wine that had appeared at her elbow. “You mentioned something about ‘living boughs’ in your tirade earlier. Was that something you had incorporated into your old house?”
“There were trees growing in my sitting room,” Emmara said sadly. “And not scrawny saplings. Full-grown oak, aspen, birch, walnut. I had no stairs. The trees carried me within themselves to the upper floors, allowing me to walk the paths of their greenhearts.”
“Compelling.” Teysa had finished the meat and was close to draining the wine goblet. “Lady Tandris, would you take the opportunity to live with the outdoors again right now, if you could?”
“If it was secure,” Emmara snorted. “I shouldn’t be so fearful, but I dream of assassins every night. I… I feel very hollow without the Conclave’s song—I’m so isolated here...”
“It’s secure,” Teysa said, standing. She looked down at the wan elf. “So, want to go?”
“Where?” asked Emmara, bewildered.
...to be continued in Chapter 7: Sharp Dressed Man
Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction