Friday, May 23, 2014

Retribution in Ravnica 7: Sharp Dressed Man

It was a dull, overcast day. The upside was that in cooler temperatures satin and armor wasn’t so awfully sweaty and uncomfortable, but the weather did nothing for any Ravnican’s mood.

Liliana and Venser sat next to each other on a public lokopede headed into the Gateless Territories.

“This is an amazing machine,” Venser said. He’d been unable to keep still at first, jumping up and looking at gears and windows and findings and steam siphons and mesh couplings for the first few blocks of travel until other riders were throwing them suspicious glances. Finally Liliana had just reached over and put her hand on his thigh during one of his brief stints in his seat and now at least he was sitting and behaving himself. A lower-caste Orzhov young woman having an affair with her hired Azorius bodyguard was less suspicious than someone overly interested in the Ravnica bus system.

“Yes, you’ve said that,” Liliana said irritably. She was in full Opal Treakoff glamour, meaning head-to-toe satin and sunburst hat with veil. She had an abominable itch in the vicinity of her tailboneprobably from the lace detail on her underpinnings or the tulle of her slipbut she wasn’t at liberty to scratch her ass in public. Liliana might just go ahead and do it, in a pinch, but Opal Treakoff, Orzhov debutante, certainly would have gone to a finishing school to eliminate such coarse behaviors. Liliana prided herself on staying in character and wished Venser would at least try to do the same.

“The flexibility in the overall design is what intrigues me. Obviously, a public transportation artifact for a crowded environment like this would have to be extremely fluid. The necessity of

“Have I told you how handsome you look in that cloak, yet?” Liliana interrupted. Would he please. Shut. Up. It’s a goddamn bus. She smiled up at him warmly. Venser hated the glamour-face, so Liliana put extra zip into her grin.

Venser stopped his bus dissertation and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, you should like it. You gave it to me.” He shrugged at her.

“Yes,” Liliana said, annoyance returning to her voice despite her best efforts. Thank goodness they were close to the Territories. Venser went back to staring at the bendy tubing that ran along the lokopede’s ceiling the entire length of the artifact, carrying patented Izzet steam power from the pede’s generator to its many legs and the control hub up front.

Venser leaned in close to her out of the blue. Liliana nearly jumped out of her skiner, out of Opal Treakoff’s skin. “Have I told you how much I hate that glamour?” he whispered with infuriating sincerity. Liliana’s mouth set in a thin, brittle line. She wasn’t sure how much more of her roommate’s wonky awkwardness she could take. Removing her hand from his leg, she shouldered him away.

“Why don’t you go up to the driver’s pod and ask for a tour!” Liliana hissed. Venser looked cowed for just a moment, but his rueful expression rapidly dissolved into one of excitement.

“That’s a fantastic idea, Luh, Miss Treakoff.”

Liliana put a hand to her forehead. “Just go,” she said. Venser giddily spun and headed up to the front of the bus, clanking all the way in his heavy blue-and-chrome Azorius disguise, hopefully to pester the driver and give her a few moments of peace and quiet.

The hangover wasn’t the most intense she’d experienced, but with everything she had going on and a ton of loose ends to keep track of, Liliana regretted the amount of liquor she’d consumed the night before.

But what did I expect? That I’d feel nothing when I saw him? The necromancer breathed a deep sigh and forced herself to examine the previous day’s activities in detail. Often during such mental exercises she found she could glean extra information about her target or uncover important details that had blended in as part of the scene at the time. The meditative review had become a regular part of her workflow, a task she often undertook while she appeared to be doing other things… such as having sex. Or riding the bus.

Jace hadn’t looked good. He wasn’t faring well as the Living Guildpact, that was for sure. Liliana recalled with affection the water carafe and empty glass on his desk. If only he’d drink something stiffer. She chuckled to herself. You wouldn’t be so miserable, my love.

Turning the audience over and over in her mind, Liliana came to the conclusion that her ex lover was a terrible politician, an awful bureaucratthe worst kind of accidentally-bad ruler whose time in power always came to a tragic, martyred, tear-jerking end. Jace would fail, not from lack of effort, but merely from a fundamental disagreement between skill set/personality and the requirements of the job.

“So we’ll be saving his ass by removing him as the Guildpact,” she whispered to herself. The thought brought her a sense of peace. Then I’ll owe him nothing for bailing me out of that battle with Garruk on Innistrad.

Liliana hummed happily to herself, as the lokopede took a sudden lurch to the left. The fisherman across from her spilled a bucket of sardines into the aisle, some gateless old women cursed profusely as their wrinkled bodies smashed into one another and they grasped for hand-holds, and a dwarf centaur in the back of the car farted in surprise.

Dear ancient gods, did they let Venser pilot this thing? The lokopede swerved right and people screamed in alarm. Liliana’s stomach turned, but she couldn’t help herself--she laughed until her side hurt, enjoying the chaos as she was jounced along with the rest of the citizens victimized by her housemate’s driving.


The streets of the Gateless Territories were teeming with activity. It was a weekday morning, and the non-guilded were attending to the business of making a living with an urgency that the guilded simply did not have.

Venser stepped off the lokopede, cheeks flushed from the exhilaration of driving the complex construct. He remembered to extend his hand to Liliana as befitting an Orzhov lady with a hired Azorius escort. The necromancer’s pale fingers dug into his palm as she accepted his hand and descended daintily from the public transportation artifact. The white satin of her gown and the green eyes and blonde wisps of hair from her glamour reflected the overcast sky.

“My meeting is on the other side of Devil’s Crossing,” Liliana said, leaning in to speak closely to Venser. He nodded, resting his hand on the sword at his hip. His Azorius-branded pauldrons and chest plate shone beneath the deep blue cloak Liliana had given him the night before.

“Care to sightsee, my lady?” Venser grinned down at her, extending his arm in a courtly fashion. Liliana giggled, hoping that he was finally getting the hang of keeping up a false identity. The artificer even seemed to be enjoying himself.

Liliana waltzed forward into the fray of guildless activity. Always confident, the presence of the artificer playing her bodyguard made the dark mage hold her chin even a little higher than usual.

Whorls of humanity consumed the square. Merchants, ill-behaved children, shoppers, stray animals and more eddied and flowed around the gigantic space of Court Corners. Lengthy streets branched off of every side of the court, offering specialty wares. Even on an overcast day, there was something buoyant about the guildless. Liliana looked up as a freelance clown let a clutch of balloons escape into the sky. Children shrieked in excitement, dismay, and pleasurethe simultaneous responses apparently holding no contradiction for them. Then, the balloons suddenly vanished from the sky. They reappeared near the ground, within reach of the squealing children. The clown was looking down at his hands, an expression of mistified awe on his garishly painted face.

Liliana twisted her neck to look up at her companion. “Philanthropist,” she said, with an inflection that made it sound like the dirtiest of words. Venser shrugged and raised his eyebrows innocently, demurring and denying everything.

They walked on, passing petitioners and lottery-dealers and headed into the street known as Produce Row. The intersection called Devil’s Crossing was up ahead, due east, and just after that the cluster of heavily guarded administrative buildings called Independence Crown would be accessible. That was the location of Liliana’s meeting.

Produce Row was packed full of everything its name would intimatevegetables and fruits of every color and size imaginable overflowed the stalls. Vendors hawked, rhymed, and even sangliterallythe virtues of their various wares.

"What is that smell?” Venser said suddenly, covering his nose and turning more pale than usual.

“Durian,” Liliana replied, gesturing at a nearby stall with slimy-looking pale green slices of melon. The vendor smiled and nodded at her respectfully, offering a sample. Liliana took one and gulped it down, offering some to Venser. The artificer sniffed it.

“It tastes a lot better than it smells,” Liliana assured him, her violet eyes sparkling.

“I’m not certain that’s reassuring, coming from a necromancer,” Venser whispered. “And I’m regretting, at this very moment, that I pride myself on scientific process.” He took a bite of the fruit. Liliana laughed at his tortured expression. The artificer chewed, and chewed…

But he finally admitted defeat by spitting the durian into a convenient flower pot. Liliana turned apologetically to the merchant. “I’m so sorry,” she said silkily, but the durian-seller waved his hands dismissively and grinned, doffing his pointed hat and twirling his mustache as he bowed to her. Liliana handed him a zib for the samples. Venser stood up and started to apologize to the merchant as well, but the durian-seller frowned at him and made a slicing motion across his neck. The artificer backed away, catching up to Liliana near an apple stand.

“I knew you were a spitter,” she chided as she selected bright red and green and yellow fruits.

“I’m sure that’s an… acquired taste,” Venser replied.

“Acquire some balls,” Liliana said with a smirk. Venser rolled his eyes and took the bag of apples from her and strapped it across his back.

They walked on down Produce Row. Many guildless seemed intrigued by the sight of an Orzhov debutante and an Azorius Lawmage out and about together. Liliana was a bit piquedthe arrangement was nothing specialmany Azorius hired out as escorts in their free time, offering protection and security to members of other guilds. What was so interesting about her and Venser? A clock tower rang out the hour.

The street curved gently down a slight slope. Pumpkins and ghost squash started to appear in stalls instead of pears and pomegranates.

A large stall flanked by several gateless merchantsall of whom happened to be females clad in low-cut, lacy dressescame into view. An old crone sat on a crate next to the stall, smoking a pipe and whittling. A woman at the stall smiled brightly at Venser and gestured them nearer.

“Best prices on the Row!” she said, her eyes ignoring Liliana and traveling down Venser’s blue and white ensemble.

Liliana snorted and kept walking. Her roommate paused to inspect the stall’s offerings. They were all tubers, in various shapes… though all were slightly curved, and no less than five inches...

“Why are these so expensoh,” Venser said. He abruptly dropped the sweet potato he’d been holding. The guildless girls dissolved into hysterical giggles.

“What is it now?” Liliana turned back to see Venser running his hand through his hair and the old crone waving a tuber at her.

“We can’t all be such lucky Syndicate ladies,” cackled the leathery woman, “but I’ll give you a 50% discount on this ere 8-inch yam for the day he discovers what a cold bitch you are and leaves you for me.” Venser looked at Liliana, and the gateless wenches quieted, wondering if the old woman had gone too far. Some Orzhov were notoriously lacking in good humor.

To everyone’s surprise, the debutante chuckled. Liliana shook her head with a grin. She glided over to the tuber-seller, reached into a satin compartment of her gown, and withdrew a fingerful of silvermore than ten times the regular price of the vegetablethat she dropped cavalierly into the old woman’s wrinkled palm.

“I’ll take it,” Liliana said. The necromancer extended her hand for the yam. The surprised crone cocked an eyebrow and handed her the precocious potato with a puff of her pipe, a wink, and a nod of appreciation.

Hefting the tuber in her hand,  Liliana looked speculatively at Venser. He was eyeing the root vegetable askance with a very dubious expression.

“Might come in handy,” she said to him, by way of explanation. “I could use it on myself, or use it on you if you’re naughty.” Venser glowered and the other merchant-women birding the scene exploded with laughter.

“Try it. I might like it,” Venser said. The crone snorted and a couple of the guildless made obscene, giggle-laced comments. Liliana put the tuber to her lips and kissed it. 

Venser straightened to his full height and crossed his arms. “You should try that when we get home. You might like it.” Amidst the titters and elbow-jabbing of the crowd, Liliana thought she actually heard one of the gateless women sigh. Liliana rolled her eyes.

“And,” Venser smirked at her, “It would shut you up for at least… thirty seconds.”

Liliana opened her mouth to respond, but as the eager laughter of the stallworkers bloomed all around them, and a gateless urchin ran up to press a wilted daffodil into her hands, and as a merchant handed Venser a free pretzel, and the cacophony of the market swept up and welcomed them…

The dark planeswalker silenced herself, letting Venser have it, and instead she sniffed the shabby yellow flower she helda fine gift for a fine morning. Venser was in the midst of a half-bow to the stall wenches, one of whom was grinning widely and trying to give him a scrap of parchment. Liliana watched with fascination as the artificer took the paper, tucking it into his belt, but held up his hands toward the women as if warding them off. He murmured something in low tones to them that she couldn’t hear as an impromptu goblin parade marched past, advertising a flash sale at Krumer’s Beer Tent.

The smell of meat pudding wafted into Liliana’s nose. She tucked the daffodil behind her ear. Venser turned away from the guildless maids, who went back to sorting and stacking root vegetables with shrugs and laughs. The artificer sidestepped to her side, brandishing a pretzel.

“Hungry?” he asked. The overcast sky reflected coolly in Venser’s gray eyes, glinted off his Azorius armor. Liliana swallowed. She was hungry, she realized with extreme annoyance. Before she thought about it, she leaned forward and took a humongous bite of the soft, steamy pretzel right out of her roommate’s hand. Venser chuckled, and as she leaned back, wiping salt crumbs from her lips, Liliana found deep satisfaction in the artificer’s rare, effulgent smile.

“STAND CLEAR,” boomed a rough voice.

Liliana spun, alert, as the crowd grumbled and parted a little further up the street at Devil’s Crossing. A bulbous-headed goblin dressed in gaudy red and blue came into view. He held an object that could have been a rolling pin crossed with a cattle prod and he waved it liberally at gateless who were slow to follow his instructions.

“What is that about?” Venser said, absently eating the rest of the pretzel as he moved closer to stand slightly in front of her. 

“I said, MAKE WAY. Move aside, peasants! Make room for the Guild Leader!” The goblin herald was hopping up and down in frustration as the crowd continued to mill around in the square.

Then a flash of forked lightning shot straight up from behind the herald, and people screamed. Liliana chuckled. The blast had been obviously aimed to do no harm, but now the gateless were scampering out of the way of the goblin and whoever he was attending. In a few seconds the crossing had more or less emptied and Liliana raised her eyebrows.

The now-smug goblin walked before a lean, chiseled Izzet guildmage of obviously high rank. Traces of the lightning he’d cast chased up his wrists and vanished into his veins, as though it were an inherent part of him and not merely a conjuring of the standard Izzet claptrappery of tubing and dials that decorated his chest and shoulders. The man’s confident smirk, set in a rebelliously stubbly face, swept around Devil’s Crossing, eyes blazing beneath a rogueish white forelock. The rest of his hair was a chocolatey dark brown in need of a trim. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, and of average heightthough his strut certainly made him seem taller.

“Stupid,” Venser was saying, breaking into Liliana’s thoughts. “Someone could have been hurt in the panic.” Venser had finished the pretzel and was standing with one hand on his sword and the other on his scrollcase, doing a very good Lawmage impression. Liliana grinned.

“Maybe he’s claustrophobic,” she shrugged. The goblin and the guildmage were nearing where she and Venser stood.

“Agoraphobic.” Venser corrected. Liliana turned to glare at him.

“Whatever. Maybe he just likes his personal space.” To Venser’s surprise she snaked her arm through his, resting her hand in the crook of his elbow. The Izzet duo had reached Produce Row and were stalking in the general direction of the planeswalkers.

Venser looked down at Liliana, and his arm reflexly moved back to its gentlemanly pose so her hand could rest more easily. He looked at the approaching guildmage. He looked back at Liliana. Her pale green Opal Treakoff eyes were glittering and tracking the Izzet’s every move.

Venser watched as Liliana’s free hand flew up to dab some kind of glossy gold substance on her lips, so thin and pale due to the glamour. “His gigantic ego probably just can’t fit through a crowd,” the artificer murmured, moving his gloved hand from the pommel of his sword to rest lightly over Liliana’s. She didn’t notice.

“His gigantic what?” Liliana muttered, adjusting her veil backwards so her eyes were exposed.

“Nevermind,” Venser said. Liliana took a step forward and Venser moved with her.

The lightninged-up guy and his goblin lackey were a few feet away. The gateless of Produce Row gave the Izzet pair plenty of room, the merchants casting surly and mistrustful glances at the gaudy mage and his herald. Liliana appeared to have lost interest in the guildmage and her trajectory seemed to be taking them toward a large jewelry stall Venser could see on the other side of Devil’s Crossing. Venser watched Liliana, who was looking with interest at a cabbage stall to her left, and smiled to himselfone thing the necromancer did not need was more jewelry...

“Oof!” Venser’s right shoulder slammed into something hard and metallic, judging from the clang. The artificer stepped back quickly and looked to his right in confusion

Directly into the intensely flashing glare of the Izzet guildmage.

“You should watch where you’re going,” the guy said, sparks coalescing at the outside corners of his eyes.

Venser stood straighter. He was at least a hand and a half taller than the guildmage, who was obviously the type constantly spoiling for a fight. The goblin groupie was giving Venser a look of “you’re gonna get it now!” and tapping the cattle prod scepter thing menacingly against its other palm. Venser gave a barely noticeable shrug, staring right back at the stranger.

“I should,” Venser said evenly, his expression stoic. The Izzet smirked, noddingoddly enoughwith apparent approval. Strange, Venser thought. Not the reaction I’d expect.

“Well, I suppose if the lady will lend me a satin glove, it’s time for me to slap you across the face and declare a duel to the death.” The Izzet had turned his smirk from Venser to Liliana.

Venser felt a strange lurch in his stomach, as if he stood on a sandslider and it had just shot out from under him, leaving him far behind in the dunes in the blink of an eye.

Liliana had, at some point, opened a black lace fan that she was now holding in front of her face. Venser wondered if she’d taken that item out before or after she’d pushed him into the guildmage. The fan fluttered sharply beneath the jade-green eyes, making them as attractive as they’d ever get, the artificer supposedto some people. Liliana cleared her throat haughtily, taking her time, her gaze never leaving the Izzet’s face.

“I’d wager all of my satin that you can’t even afford one of my gloves,” she said coolly.

“I never pay women to remove articles of clothing,” the guildmage replied. The goblin offered him the cattle prod, but he waved the herald off. He hooked his thumbs in some straps on his gear, grinning at “Opal Treakoff."

“But you will this time.” Liliana snapped the fan closed. “You’ve insulted my escort. Apologize, and I’ll give you a glove as a token of my forgiveness.”

“Extortion. Ral Zarek never apologizes.”

Did he just refer to himself in the third person? Venser closed his eyes in agony, exerting extreme control not to laugh out loud. It was like he was an extra in a street play. He could feel what was happening, but had no agency written into his part to influence events. Sighing deeply in his heart of hearts, Venser waited for Liliana to say her line.

“And I never take no for an answer. Besides, who is ‘Ral Zarek’?” Liliana tittered into a gloved hand. The Izzet guildmage laughed too. He adjusted his stance, leaning back but still engaging the lady’s vulpine smile. He tapped a gauge on his chest thatin Venser’s humble opinionwas at least three times larger than it needed to be to actually achieve efficient functionality.

“I’d love to show you,” the Izzet said, “But I’ve got to take my leave of this pleasant company. Important Guild Leader business and all that, you know.”

Liliana simply inclined her head gracefully. The Izzet turned, snapping his fingers for the goblin to get back in front of him to clear the path, and the duo walked away. Venser was in the middle of processing that Lil hadn’t gotten what she wanted out of that exchange when Ral turned around.

“I apologize!” he called back, sweeping his body low in a satire of a gallant bow.

Liliana responded with a dark, dark smile. She removed her arm from Venser’s. She raised one hand, and, deliberately, finger by finger, she slowly tugged off the satin glove. Her naked white skin flashed in the daylight as she flipped the glove to Ral with an admirably accurate throw.

Venser was impressed. Apparently, so was Zarek. The guildmage snatched the glove from the air. He paused in silence a moment, holding the glove and looking at “Opal.” Then he tucked the glove into his vest and turned away again, swaggering up Produce Row toward Court Corners with his goblin bellowing in front of him until they disappeared around a bend.

“Entertaining,” Liliana said, reaching for Venser’s arm again. The artificer bent down to pick up a pebble from the street. He flung it into a nearby alley.

“Someone could trip,” he said when he met Liliana’s questioning look. Venser took a step away from her. “I saw an artifact shop up there, looked like they have some vedalken stuff. I’m going to go take a look. Just… call, if you need me.”

Liliana put her hands on her hips. “We don’t have time for you to shop. I have to get to my meeting with

“Lil. The square’s emptied out now. You can make it. I’ll be at Independence Crown by the time you’re done with your meeting. I promise.” 

Venser ignored Liliana’s frigid stare and headed toward the offshoot of Devil’s Crossing known as Sage’s Row.


Independence Crown looked as ridiculous as ever, flaunting the kind of geometric architecture that only the marginalized think of as appealing. The semicircle of robust shapes housed all of the governmental and administrative buildings for the Guildless Territories, but something had changed since Liliana had last seen itand unfortunately the change did nothing to improve Independence Crown’s aesthetics. Hanging over the main entrance to the compound and all over the badly spaced windows were banners.  Heavy banners, made from tackily shiny, cheap fabric. They were emblazoned with the symbol of a flame within a circle done in equally tacky, shiny cheap gold thread.

Banners of The Order. The Order of Heliud. The righteous finger-wagglers had finally come to Ravnica, and Liliana knew exactly which two planeswalkers were to blame.

Liliana entertained thoughts of poxing all the gauche fabric into black ash, and she liked the idea so much her hands began to tremble with swamp-fueled spells. But, that would get her nowhere fast in the upcoming negotiations, so she set a smile on her face and flounced up the steps of Independence Crown. Opal Treakoff’s green eyes and wispy hair were gone, and Yolanda Muirrh’s purplish-blue eyes of alexandrite and ruddy curls in their place.

The necromancer ascended the top stair as the poised and perfumed ambassador of the Dawn Sect,  a respected and admired Gateless Sovereign

Gateless sentries barred her waypolitely.

“Lady Muirrh, it is an honor.” The sentry on the left, a dark-haired, serious-eyed young woman, was the one to address Liliana since she outranked the young man on the right. “I do not believe we have ever met, but I know you from your charitable work. I’m Lieutenant Reed. What brings you to Independence Crown today?”

“A meeting with Cleric Ar-Alan. I am expected at eleven-thirty. I believe I am a few minutes early.” Liliana smiled at the young male soldier and he gulped and looked away, apparently unable to cope with being noticed by the beautiful Sovereign.

Lieutenant Reed was competent, quickly checking the runed tablet set into her gauntlet. “Ah yes, a bit early, my Lady, but I’m sure the Cleric would not want us to detain you hereI will escort you to his chambers myself. Garin, watch the door. Make sure you buzz the rocs if there’s any trouble at alleven if you’re not sure it’s an issue--alright?”

“Y-yes, sir,” the young man replied, raising his head resolutely and giving the lieutenant an overly stiff salute. A faint flush rose on his boyish cheeks. Ah, so he’s enamored with his superior officer, Liliana thought. How sweet.

The tall doors of Independence Crown swung open after Reed traced a runic code into a hidden panel. A long colorless hall that held several more levels of blocky stairs was lit modestly by glowspheres. Liliana guessed that Ar-Alan’s office would be on an upper floor.

She was right. With a grim smile Liliana followed Reed up the awkward and breath-consuming steps. How people function in dresses like this on a permanent basis, I’ll never know. By the time they reached the correct floor, Liliana was sure her curls were drooping and she felt a rivulet of sweat trickling into her cleavage. The lieutenant, perky and fresh as when they’d started the climb, was smiling chivalrously at “Lady Muirrh” as she held open a heavy door that led into another chamber. Yeah, you try looking so dapper after doing those stairs in twenty pounds of clingy skirt Liliana sulked inwardly, though she could tell that Reed was in peerless physical condition from the way the woman carried herself.

“This is Crown Hall, and the Cleric has had the honor of taking the largest guest suite as his personal office,” the lieutenant said as they crossed beige floor and passed beige walls whose windows looked out into gray sky. Liliana approved of how this soldier said it--as if the Gateless government building deigned to allow the cleric to stay. It showed loyalty to the the spirit of the Territories, where independence and equality were supposedly valued over all else. Reed spoke as if she firmly believed a holy cleric needed to be approved and vetted by the unguilded just like anyone else. But then, Independence Crown is covered in Heliud’s banners. There must be a strong following for the religion amongst the government officials.

Perhaps that was due to this cleric’s persuasive tactics, Liliana sneered. She’d soon find out.

“There was an open house this morning, where Cleric Ar-Alan took public questions about The Order. You probably noticed Independence Crown’s unusual decorations.”

Reed said it completely neutrally, but Liliana decided she was liking this lieutenant more and more.

“Here we are.” They’d finally crossed the expansive, domed Hall and reached a simple but well-crafted door along the southern wall. There were several other similar doors, all of which Liliana presumed served as quarters for high-ranking individuals who worked in Independence Crown on a daily basis. Reed raised her hand and knocked.

“Yes?” came a resonant voice from within. Liliana cringed a little as she stood behind Reed, not from fear, but from embarrassment. She rolled her eyes at herself and gritted her teeth. Let’s damn well get this over withopen the door, you whip-flicking boor... she thought. Though really, bore is more accurate.

“Sovereign Muirrh of the Dawn Sect to see you, honored Cleric.”

The door clicked and swung open wide. Over Reed’s shoulder Liliana could see a tall, well-built man framed in the doorway. Truthfully, he was probably the best-built man Liliana had come across in her travels. The fine white wool of his cleric’s robes did nothing to hide his physiquefolds of soft cloth fell from muscular, rounded shoulders and flowed smoothly over pectorals so defined they could be used as pauldron forms. The man’s face was approaching middle age but still ruggedly handsome, and his dark blonde hair was pulled back from his face into a low braid that peeked out from around his neck.

“My thanks, Lieutenant,” he said. Reed nodded and stood aside for Liliana. “Sovereign.” The esteemed cleric extended a hand to welcome her into his office. His face was composed and he didn’t make eye contact with her.

“Thank you, Reed,” Liliana said, touching the lieutenant’s arm gently as she glided past.

“My pleasure.” The young woman bowed low, and when she stood, she looked Liliana in the face before saluting formally. At least I have one ally in this depressing place Liliana mused as she listened to Reed’s boots clack back across Crown Hall.

Ar-Alan closed the door with a reluctant thud. Ugh, we’re alone. Liliana suppressed a grimace as she turned to the holy man, simultaneously touching her right earring.

“There’s no way I’m keeping this getup on in here. It’s stifling.” Tendrils of black swathed the necromancer as the Sovereign glamour dissolved. In moments she was herselfblack hair cascading freely around her face, molded leather bodice protecting the assets, comfy skirt she could cross her legs in, bare shoulders, and killer boots.

“Ahhh, so much better,” she exulted, indulging in a feline stretch before collapsing into one of the cleric’s overstuffed chairs. It was covered in a soft bearskin, and she snuggled down into it, eyeing “Ar-Alan” from beneath half-lowered lids.

“Come on, Gid, are you not going to look at me for the duration of this mission?”

Gideon Jura swallowed, frowned, and scratched his neck self-consciously, as if the cleric’s robes vexed his skin. He turned toward Liliana… and fixed his gaze out the window.

“Oh for Ulamog’s sake, it didn’t mean anythingso, let’s just move on, shall we? Forget it ever happened. Do you have anything to drink in here?” Liliana twisted to eyeball the cabinets near the fireplace, daring them to hide liquor from her.

“Drinking is what got us in trouble the first time,” Gideon said harshly to the window. The dull light from the grayed-over sky made his features look old and pinched… a strange contrast to the way the overcast day had only seemed to caress Venser’s face, seeming right at home.

“Um, drinking was probably the best part of that evening, if we’re being honest with ourselves,” Liliana sighed.

“I told you I wasn’t into

“Look, I’m sorry about the rack thing. I shouldn’t have pushed you.”

“You’re a beautiful woman, Liliana, but that… it’s just not right…”

“Well, if you’d given it a chance, maybe you’d have found something to enjoyif we’d had more time

I’d had a lot to drink.”

“That’s fair.”

Gideon Jura, righteous mercenary and planeswalker flagbearer of The Order of Heliud, turned from the window and let his sullen gaze fall on the necromancer in his best chair. Gideon had been many thingssoldier, instrument of holy war, defender of the helpless on multiple planes, paragon of strength, flame-mage bounty hunter… but he’d never been a coward, or a quitter.

“We could try again,” he said to Liliana.

“Um, I’m good,” she said.

Gideon nodded his acknowledgementnot without a healthy amount of reliefand returned to gazing out the window. “I think I have some brandy in the cupboard over there.”

“I knew you were holding out on me,” Liliana laughed, jumping up and sauntering across the suite. The hour was passing. Venser would be at Independence Crown, soon. He’d promised. Liliana knew the artificer well enough to count on that.

“I don’t have a lot of time,” she said to Gideon, as she uncorked the brandy.

“Not much needs to be said. I’m the backup plan."

“What do you get out of this?”

“I still believe in The Order.”

“Even though it’s a farce?”

“Order itself can’t be denied.”

“We’re talking about a religious organization, not the ideal, Gid.”

“I believe that sometimes the bad ideas of mortals can lead to the transcendent edification of societies, despite flaws in the execution.”

“I think our mutual employer wouldn’t like hearing you group him in with ‘the mortals.’”

“Doesn’t make it less true.”

“I wish he’d have a little more faith in me. You and your Heliudites are going to be a pain in my ass here.”

“Liliana, everyone knows your history with Jace. If it were you, wouldn’t you want some kind of failsafe leverage? In case of… complications?”

“Shut up.”

Gideon looked at her and smiled tediously. “That’s what you told me before you unrolled that godsawful binding-tape…”

“I said I was sorry!”

“No, I’m sorry. I should’ve drunk less… and cracked the whip.”



Venser turned the two objects over in his hands. He couldn’t decide. The merchant, being vedalken, was pretty good at hiding his emotions, but Venser knew he was wearing out his welcome. He’d been brooding over the seller’s wares for half an hour.

“If you were me, you’d take that one.” Venser startledthe bright voice had popped up from right next to him. He turned to see a good-natured smile alarmingly close to his left side.

“Why?” was all Venser said. The smile belonged to a perky woman in Izzet colors with goggles pushed back to hold her short brown hair out of her eyes. Something about her directness reminded him of Radha, while something about her assuredness reminded him of Jhoira. The woman was obviously not a barbarian warlord and he doubted she was an ageless artificer, but Venser still found himself interested in what she had to say.

“Because the other one is for sale for three-quarters that price about five stalls down that way.” She jerked her thumb to point further into Sage’s Row. Venser glanced at the vedalken merchant, who was giving the Izzet mage a malignant stare like liquid ice.

“I’ll uh… take this one.” Venser put down the overpriced item and handed the vedalken some zinos for the other. The blue-skinned seller grabbed the zinos and stuffed them into his belt-pouch, crossed his arms, and didn’t so much as offer even a fakely appreciative thank-you.

“Guess I’ll never shop there again,” Venser muttered, turning away and hiding the artifact in one of the secret pockets beneath his armor. To his surprise he realized the Izzet woman had also left the stall and was now walking with him. She was petite and outfitted in the bright colors and interesting accoutrements of her guild; a low-cut quilted vest displayed ample chest area beneath some copper tubing, and striped pants hugged her hips.

"Thanks?” Venser said, hoping she’d go away.

“No problem,” the mage said, turning her youthfully energetic face up towards him with another megawatt smile. “Mardenk is always trying to rip people off.” She had a dimple in her left cheek and a slightly upturned nose. Without really wanting to, Venser noticed the pinkness of her lips and the heavily-lashed darkness of her bright eyes. 

“I’m Beatrix!” she said, extending a hand toward him.

Venser reached out and put his glove in hers, shaking hands as if Beatrix’s arm might turn into a cobra any second. There was a silence.

“And… what’s your name?"

“VDamn. This fake identity crap. “Luke,” he said with as much force as he could muster, throwing a grin at the young womanBeatrix-to hopefully cover his slip.

It seemed to work. “Nice to meet you,” she chirped. “It’s not everyday you see an Azorius officer browsing Sage’s Row.”

Damn it again. Venser hadn’t even considered the possibility of attracting attention because he was behaving out of character. I am not cut out for this.

“Oh, I won’t tell,” Beatrix was saying, apparently mistaking his self-loathing frown for disapproval. “I think it makes a whole lot more sense for you all to buy your own stuff than have to requisition it through the Azorius system. I meannot to insult your guild, but there’s no need for the middleman. I’ve heard they just do it to turn a small profit on selling equipment to their own employees.”

“Yeah, doesn’t make much sense,” Venser murmured, running a hand through his hair.

“Really, I won’t mention it to anyone,” Beatrix reassured him, putting a hand on his arm. She leaned in and spoke quietly. “But uh, just a suggestion… next time you come down here it might be better to, you know, put on a disguise or something?”

“Right… thanks.”

“Are you new? To Azorius?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Pssh, you should’ve chosen Izzet.” Beatrix poked his ribs through a gap in his armor. “Obviously you’re more interested in fun machines than scrolls and policy! Or you wouldn’t have been looking at that stuff back there.”

Venser had no idea where they were walking. He glanced around to get his bearings and noticed the clocktower above one of the blue canvas tents of the Row.

“I’ve gotta get going,” he said, turning back toward Devil’s Crossing.

“What? We just got started,” Beatrix teased. “No time for a beer? I have to get back soon, too, Ral’s expecting an Agyrem flux report from me by the end of the day. Come on, Luke, just one.”

Venser paused, his gaze swiveling from the distant Independence Crown buildings to Beatrix’s eager face. “Did you say ‘Ral’?” he said.

“Yep. Guild Leader Zarek. He put me on this assignment since I was top of my class, but I’d rather be looking into the dormancy of some Simic cytoplast samples we found last monthoops, I guess I shouldn’t be talking to you about that!” Beatrix laughed freely.

Yeah, top of your class, I bet that’s why he wanted you to work for him. Venser coughed. 

“You okay?” Beatrix, reached over to steady him. “You’re kind of pale.” Venser felt his head spinning. Funny, he hadn’t had a dizzy spell in a while…

“I’m just tired. You know what’ll help, Beatrix? Beer.” Venser cocked an eyebrow at the Izzet young woman and pushed a grin onto his face. He was rewarded with Beatrix’s sassy smirk. She tilted her head toward a cluster of buildings nearby. Her short, dark hair fell choppily across her smooth neck and pink cheeks.

“There’s a great pub really close.”

“Lead the way,” said Venser.


Two hours later, the horrific outline of Imperial Crown loomed up in front of the artificer.

“Good gods,” Venser chuckled to himself. Lil wasn’t kidding, that is ugly.

A tiny figure stood in the distance, framed by the white buildings of the Crown. The figure was wearing a hat as ugly as the buildings and had its arms crossed.

Uh oh. Venser slightly quickened his pace from lethargic to normal. The figure held its ground and didn’t move to meet him.

Finally he made it to the courtyard of Independence Crown. Gateless officials and petitioning citizens crisscrossed and milled, pursuing agendas and speaking in lowered tones. It was lunchtime, and everyone was outside getting air.

“How was your meeting?” Venser asked as he clanked up to Liliana. She glared at him through Opal Treakoff’s black veil.

“You’re late,” Lil said.

“Sorry, lost track of time,” Venser shrugged. He tried grinning at her. He was rewarded with a narrowing of the pukey glamour-eyes and a dangerous thinning of the already thin glamour-lips.

“Have you been drinking?”

“Haven’t you?”

Liliana smashed her foot down on the concrete. She looked Venser up and down. “What is wrong with you? You look awful.”

“I was just making friends.” Venser said. “Had a beer or two.”

“Greatwhat, more addresses of gateless wenches? And now you’re sick. Why are you so pale?!” Liliana stepped down furiously from the courtyard step and snatched his arm into hers.

“I don’t know. Just tired, Lil.” Venser tipped forward and fainted atop the necromancer.

“Oof!” Liliana swore as she was borne down to the stone of the courtyard beneath Venser’s unconscious body. His Azorius plate clanged on the concrete and the blue cloak settled down smotheringly over both of them. Liliana thumped her fist on his comatose back in rage.

“Venser!” she shouted through a mouthful of breastplate. “Venser! Get up

The artificer’s body rolled off her. Liliana breathed deeply and gratefully, looking up at the gray sky. A soldier’s face appeared over her. It was a young woman with dark brown hair and serious eyes.

“M’am, may I assist you? Your companion seems to be in questionable condition. I’m Lieutenant Reed, sentry of Independence Crown.”

Liliana sighed as she righted her Syndicate hat atop her head. “A pleasure to meet you, lieutenant. And yes, your assistance would be most welcome.”

________________ be continued in Chapter 8: Blues

Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction

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