“There’s no way I can fit my ass through that,” Dack said.
Wren snickered. “I thought about telling you not to eat that third malasada last night, but then I figured why deprive myself of the moment we’re enjoying right now?”
Dack Fayden, thief of some notoriety, growled at his smaller companion. Stretching a gauntleted hand forward, Dack quickly assessed the ingress and confirmed his suspicions. The rakish planeswalker grimaced and brushed his silky auburn hair from his eyes.
“That’s right, chubby bunny. Now move aside.” Wren Vinndrav elbowed his slight frame in front of Dack’s beefier one and leaned forward. His skin-tight black uniform and dark close-shaved hair blended with the shadows of the Azorius ventilation shaft so well that Dack, nearly on top of the smaller thief, still had a hard time distinguishing his friend’s actions.
“Are you… sniffing?” Dack said.
“A masterful thief can judge the depth of something this way,” Wren replied with just a touch of condescension.
“I'll remember that next time I'm assessing pint glasses or girls. A funner thief would have found a less annoying way in,” Dack said.
“Let each aspire to his or her own glories.” Something clinked softly in the dark and Dack realized Wren had taken out his grappling hook.
“You should join Orzhov, quoting verse like that like a pro.”
“Actually, that’s the mission statement printed on the menu at Dumple’s bar, Dack.”
“Damn it, quit showing off and just get down there, Vinndrav.”
Wren turned and flashed a white grin in the dark. “Always a pleasure showing off for you, Fayden… my most favored pupil!” Dack aimed a halfhearted punch at the other thief, but of course all he hit was air. The grappling line sissed down.
“Woo ooo oot!” echoed Wren’s voice as he fell further and further down the chimney.
Dack cringed and looked back the way they’d come. Wren was irritating as piss, the smart-asp kid lecturing him on the ways of thievery one second and then taking unnecessary risks the next. Yet Dack had had to admit on numerous occasions that Wren’s skill as a footpad greatly outmatched his own. Dack had made a name for himself with some daring and high-visibility busts, but Wren was respected in the innermost circles of Ravnica. No one knew Wren’s name, but they knew his work.
Dack waited anxiously to see if there would be any response to Wren’s vocalizations, but the tunnel stayed silent. Vinndrav was right; apparently this location was so neglected that nothing heard them. Wren’s voice died away and the air shaft stayed as abandoned as when they’d found it.
The grappling line went taut and the two tugs that followed meant all was well on Wren’s end. Dack sat back in the eerily silent tunnel and put his hands behind his head. He planned to pass the time thinking about Theros—specifically, how much he loved Theran fashions, the way they flattered Atha’s figure, and the charming habit ladies there had of skipping underwear.
“Nothing comes between a Theros girl and her toga,” Atha had said, firelight flickering across her dark skin and hair as fire sparked across her fingertips…
Niv-Mizzet’s sanctuary was located in a massive spire that towered stories above the next tallest building in Ravnica.
The cloaked woman eyed the street below the tower. It was fairly busy for evening, populated with goblins working late and cranky old Izzet mages trying to solve impossible puzzles within their modest townhouses. Windows were lit. Messengers scurried. It was a regular night in the district of the nerdwankers.
The cloaked woman cast her eyes up the shining shaft of the Aerie. He would want to meet up in the most phallic building on the plane she sneered in the dark. Yet, she felt her pulse quicken slightly.
The woman spoke a word of black magic and was lifted into the air on a cloud of darkness, ascending towards the dragon’s sanctum.
“So glad you could come,” Ral said, swinging open the door before she’d even touched it to knock. The glowspheres shone off his white forelock and reflected in his gleaming topaz eyes. The rest of his hair was dark and unruly, surrounding a lean and angular face that smirked at her from the entryway.
“Don’t be. I didn’t yet,” Liliana said. Ral laughed, shaking his head appreciatively, as he took a gentlemanly step backwards to allow her to enter the Aerie. “Welcome, Lady Treakoff, to the Great Aerie—my humble abode.
“What about Niv?” the necromancer smirked as she breezed past him.
“Dragon’s away, Ral will play.” The tempestuous planeswalker grinned.
“Ugh,” Liliana groaned. The doors shut, and she was alone with Ral Zarek.
The interior of Niv-Mizzet’s sanctuary was astounding. Incandescent lines of blue energy raced and traced over walls that appeared to be made of pure flame. The flickering fires danced in theatrical patterns, their constantly shifting colors full of images and scenes that teased the eye, only to vanish when you looked directly at them. There was no ceiling—though the spire outside was concrete, the Aerie’s interior showed only a vortex of fiery tsunami that flowed endlessly up, and up, and up… Despite the magical flames, the air inside the room was surprisingly cool and refreshing.
“Impressive, eh?” Ral murmured, coming to stand behind her. Liliana withheld any reaction as she felt his lips brush her ear. His skin was unnaturally warm, but dry. Liliana was glad—clamminess always reminded her of Kothophed, and that always reminded her of her debt, and that always killed the mood.
“It’s alright,” she said. “I’ve seen better.” She could smell the leather oil and metal polish of Ral’s gear, the earthy smokiness of his clothes and hair. He put his fingertips and on the back of her neck and she suppressed a shiver, elbowing him off of her.
Stepping briskly away, Liliana spoke without turning around. “Frisky, aren’t we, Zarek?” she said, walking in a measured pace toward the center of the expansive room. The electrical buzzing and arcane air-whispers of Niv-Mizzet’s sanctuary were the only reply. When Liliana finally reached the guardrail of the Aerie’s interior stair system, she turned around and regarded Ral coldly. He just looked at her, his topaz eyes flashing.
“Why don’t you drop the glamour,” he said, walking slowly toward “Opal” and her defensive position at the railing. His movements reminded her of stalking wolf. No, more like a starving coyote. Liliana laughed to herself and sneered, refusing to maintain eye contact with him, as she idly cast her glance over the plethora of generators in the room. They were diverse—some as big as wagons, others small as a wheel of cheese. There were some so sculptural they could be mistaken for art, and others so mundane and practical that they were painful to look at.
“Hmm, I thought walkers like you enjoyed fakery.” Liliana mused in a bored voice, maintaining the Opal illusion staunchly as she felt Ral trying to mentally strip it away from her. She gave a huge sigh. “You’d think… with all this fiery decor, that it’d be hotter in here, wouldn’t you, Zarek?” She leaned back on the railing, taunting him.
Ral just kept approaching, slowly. “Your neck is turning pink under all that satin, Opal, so the temperature in here must suit you just fine, my lady. And I would never allow you to fake it. Imagine what that would do to my repu—”
“Ego?” Liliana interrupted, laughing. Ral laughed, too. Liliana was pleased. She was giving him a terrible time and his grin was still a sincerely undaunted ivory flash in his tanned face. He won’t fold and fizzle like most of them do. At least we’ll make some interesting memories. Liliana let the glamour weaken a bit, making sure it flickered visibly.
Ral tilted his head back and a strange expression that Liliana couldn’t read passed across his face. Then the smile returned. “My ego’s as resilient as the rest of me, so I doubt it’d take much damage, even if I did the unfathomable and disappointed you in the bedroom… Which, of course, will never happen.” Ral, chuckling, shrugged with infuriating certainty.
Liliana rolled her eyes sky-high and the Izzet turned away from her. He raised his hands, murmuring unheard words, and his magic illuminated the rest of the room. Lightning flashed off of gadgets and machines, infrastructure and egresses, pipes and wires, conduits and nodes.
“Look how much stuff we can have fun with,” he said, turning back towards her. He crossed his arms and winked. His face was open and honest. The fulgent spell made his eyes spark citrine and reflected off his gear in a dangerously brilliant mantle. Liliana felt her grasp on the glamour slipping, and she was fine with it. Outside, she heard the low boom of thunder that followed in the wake of Ral’s lightning.
“What makes you so sure I’d be down for that kind of thing?” Liliana smiled, letting Opal vanish into the void.
“Only you pretending you’re not into it,” Ral said, his expression turning serious as Liliana herself coalesced into the room, the pallor of her disguise giving way to her true nature. Opal’s wispy blonde hair faded out to reveal long, curling raven waves. The faded green eyes and narrow features common to the Treakoff family were mercilessly evicted by an urban burgeoning of silky bosom, flushed lips, and darkly violet eyes.
“Well, hot damn,” Ral Zarek said.
“Last words?” Liliana said, winking back.
Ral shook his head. "Hardly." He closed the distance between them in an instant. Liliana didn’t have time to react. She wasn't sure if he'd cast something, or was just... really motivated. Ral reached out and pulled her to him, his grip undeniable. He clamped one hand behind her neck, and the other slid across her hip to her back, and under her belt.
Gauges and tubing and steel pressed into her skin. Liliana inhaled against his kiss. Electric surges coursed from Ral’s skin into her body and made her gasp. She felt her breath catching hard in her throat, the demon-inscribed tattoos on her body flaring to life. He pushed her back and pinned her against the railing, his touch practiced and emphatic.
He drew his mouth away from her face and stared down at her for a moment. "Do these cover your entire body?" he asked, dragging a calloused finger along one incandescent purple line that ran downward from her neck and along the curve of her breast.
Liliana smiled coyly up at him. "Well, almost my entire body," she giggled. The glowing scars flared brighter as she spoke and Ral reflexly licked his lips. "You'll just have to explore," Liliana said, twining her hands in his unruly hair and yanking his head back viciously as she simultaneously arched her body into his. Ral inhaled sharply, then steadily exhaled as he gained control of himself.
"Might take me a while to find my way around. Typical man, you know. Never ask for directions," Ral said as he grabbed her wrists, slowly extricating himself from her grasp. Liliana let him overpower her, then gasped as he suddenly twisted her arm, spinning her around so she was pinned backwards against him.
"Good thing I'm used to giving orders, then," Liliana hissed as Ral wrapped one arm across her neck and started to yank up the back of her skirt with the other hand. "Dathryxium." The necromancer giggled at Ral's startled yelp, but she remained trapped in his arms.
"Now, that was just mean," Ral laughed. "Did you just... disintegrate all of my clothes? Do you have any idea how much it costs to commission an ensemble that gaudy, little lady?" Ral pinched her cheek. Liliana laughed harder.
"You're lucky I let you keep all those claptrap gauges and straps—but I do so have a thing for guys in harnesses and hardware," Liliana purred, snuggling herself against Ral's all-but-naked body.
"Be a good girl and tell me where you want me to fuck you."
“There.” Liliana nodded towards a corner of the room where an oversized glowing node riddled with loops of steamy metal tubes sat innocently pulsing.
Ral swept her up in his arms. “As you wish. And may I tell you—Liliana Vess—that this is my life's achievement, to spend one night as your enslaved boy-toy. Notorious, grandiose, phenomenal slut that you are.”
“Aw Ral-ee-kins, I could just pinch your nipples for that!”
“OUCH! Damnit, stop that—Alright, alright! I'm sorry. It's just that you're such a dirty wh—OW!”
Within moments they were insignificant components in a greater system. The Aerie embraced them, and they melded with the lightning and the shadows.
“Enjoying yourself?” Nicol Bolas’s face was levitating next to her bed.
Screaming, Liliana jumped up and wrapped the sheets around herself. She twisted around, looking for clues as to where she was. Ral’s bed… she cringed, eyeing the body next to her.
“Oh, don’t worry. He was barely alive before I cast my spell on him. He should wake up in about seven hours. Must have been a good night, by your human standards.”
“Please, like dragons don’t have sex.” Liliana glared and settled herself into a more comfortable position, using Ral’s body as a backrest. She leveled a scornful silence at the Elder Dragon whose head was sticking up in such an entitled manner over the Aerie balcony.
“We don’t have the… melodrama.” Nicol Bolas’s eyes swiveled around the room. “Or the gadgetry,” he added quietly, as an afterthought.
“Well maybe you should,” Liliana muttered. If I know anyone who needs to get laid—
“I can hear you,” Nicol Bolas reminded her in a forceful monotone.
“Just a suggestion,” Liliana shrugged quietly. “I’ve heard dragon reproductive statistics have been depressed for a number of decades and some seem to think that—”
“NOT THE ISSUE AT HAND.” Nicol Bolas’s eyes flared with dangerous green energy. Liliana scrunched down into the sheets and wondered if she could rouse Ral in an emergency to distract the great dragon while she escaped. Luckily her employer calmed immediately, merely giving her a stern eye.
“What I came to talk about,” Bolas continued, “is your attachment to your little artificer and possible danger from Dimir machinations.”
Liliana frowned, silent, for at least five seconds. Attachment? "My" little artificer? What in the multiverse was the dragon talking about? She opened her mouth to reply.
“Don’t deny it.” Bolas said drily.
Liliana felt her cheeks flush and raised her chin angrily. “There’s nothing to deny. I've been keeping custody of him as per our arrangement. I thought I was supposed to keep an eye on him until you decided what you wanted to—”
“You are playing house.”
“It's part of my cover!”
“A wine cellar? Really, Vess. You are slipping.”
Liliana's eyes narrowed and she felt her teeth grind in rage. She sat up in the bed, dropping the sheets and completely forgetting she wasn't wearing any clothes. She leveled a finger at Bolas. "You've never had problems with the way I work before—what's so different now? I haven't even slept with the guy—”
“What?! Everything is on schedule, so I don't know what you're complaining about. I have a right to enjoy some personal perks on these dismal jobs of yours, don't I? Who else could have done it on Mirrodin? Your Tezzie? Old lunkhead Gideon, maybe? I wiped out an entire plane of Phyrexians for you and you're on me about a wine cellar? This is completely ridic—”
“SILENCE.” Bolas thundered, baring his teeth. Liliana cringed. Bolas's eyes had gone a livid shade of chartreuse. “I like you, necromancer, but you are testing the limits of my patience. If you are tired of being in my employ, say the word and I will let every demon in the multiverse know of your exact whereabouts.”
Liliana lowered her head. “Sorry,” she said.
A huge puff of air emanated from Bolas’s formidable nostrils. The Elder Dragon looked over his shoulder, nearly taking down a wall of the Aerie as he did so.
“You are aware that Venser cares little for anything besides the advancement of his craft?”
Liliana blinked. Venser again? Why is he harping on this topic? She shook her head, remembering that Bolas could hear everything she thought anyway, and bit back another acid retort. “Of course I'm aware, Lord Bolas. It's a pretty obvious part of his personality.” She brushed her hair out of her eyes and made a show of looking earnestly confused.
“You are also aware that he has been acquainted with many women more powerful than you, and while perhaps outmatched by your raw physical appeal, they are or were all quite stunning in their own ways? By measly human standards I mean, of course. And despite this exposure, he has remained wholly unchanged?”
Liliana's fake confusion turned to an expression of true bafflement. “I—I'm sorry, my Lord. I don't think I'm following the thread of your rhetoric...”
“Don't ponder it, Vess. It will make sense when it should. I have known Venser far longer than you have. He is much better connected and much more well-traveled than he has led you to believe. You are aware that he was called 'friend' by many of the elder planeswalkers, before the Mending, and in fact helped seal the rifts?”
“I uh... I thought the names must be a coincidence, actually. Seriously? That milksop in my apartment building is the Venser?”
“Really, Vess. You did know he was from Urborg, correct?”
“Well yeah, but I thought it was just a common name or something.”
“You thought there could be two Vensers who are close friends with Karn planeswalker?”
“How am I supposed to know how many friends Karn has!”
Liliana and Bolas exhaled simultaneous sighs of exasperation. They stared at each other, amethyst eyes blazing into unblinking orbs of peridot, until Bolas flicked his tongue in amusement and Liliana started to chuckle with consternation and fatigue.
“Why are you telling me this? I'm confused.” Liliana pouted.
“And indecent." Bolas stated blandly.
Liliana glanced down. “Oh, sorry!” She started to reach to where she'd dropped the sheets, then stopped. A sly smile slid across her face. “Well, it doesn't matter, does it, O Bolas, since the flesh of us 'measly humans' means nothing to you, eh?”
“Unless it means a meal, you are correct, Vess. Apparently it is not the case for brother Crosis.”
Liliana's smirk fell from her face. She glared. "Where did you hear about that?”
“Dragon reproductive statistics may be down, but our gossip quotient is up.” Bolas bared his teeth again, in what Liliana thought was the most disgusting grin she'd ever seen.
“That isn't even funny. And I'm not ashamed of the Crosis thing. At least he has a decent human side to him. And can't fault his taste in women!” Liliana did the most human thing she could think of, and flipped her hair.
Bolas's head lowered a few feet and advanced until it encroached on her personal space. Liliana leaned back against Ral as Bolas's nostrils got closer and closer. He stopped when he was close enough that she could see the razorlike quills that grew sparsely above his eyelids.
“Vess. If when the Multiverse freezes over it turns out that I, Nicol Bolas, have humanoid aspirations... and if by some chance in the Abyss you happen to be on the list of those 'aspirations'... You had better find a good place to hide, because I am not Crosis. You would not survive.”
Liliana didn't realize she was shivering and clenching her teeth until Bolas had returned his massive wedgelike head to its original position near the balcony. The great dragon peered down at her with a suddenly gracious and professional mien.
“As much as I am enjoying this conversation, I must take my leave. I have heard that Szadek is actively hunting you… and yours. Take it as you will.”
“Thank you, Lord Bolas.”
“You are most welcome, Vess.”
Liliana watched as the greatest of all dragons sank his head down, down, down below the balcony and then flew his great bulk away into the tangerine sky.
If anyone needs to get laid… she thought.
I heard that Nicol Bolas replied. And then, he was gone.
Liliana’s eyes snapped open.
She was staring into the fiery apex of the Aerie, and yes, next to her was Ral Zarek (obvious from the singed-hair smell and uneven, self-satisfied snoring). But it was dark out, not sunrise. The conversation with Bolas was crystal clear, immediate, real, yet she’d just awakened… So, he invaded my dreams again. Liliana fumed, wondering why the dragon couldn’t just use a secured voice-sphere or thought implant or aura chat, like everyone else.
What had he said?
“I’ve heard that Szadek… hunting… you… and yours—”
Wren dropped into an abandoned communal servants’ chamber on the outskirts of the New Prahv compound. The room was dusty and dead, the door barred from the outside. At one time the room had been the scene of a violent crime and the Wojeks had reported some kind of curse had been laid there. The Justiciars had declared it off-limits. Years later, the hatefulness of the violence and any ghouls and curses had long gone, but the Azorius bureaucracy just hadn’t caught up. The room stayed boarded up and warded off janitors with signage that read, simply, “Do Not Enter.”
Wren knew all this because he made sure to stay close to those Azorius janitors, sometimes even taking the senior janitor, a spirit, up to Agyrem and treating the old fella to some expensive spectral liqueurs.
Wren squeezed out of a moldy window and into one of New Prahv’s many courtyards. Three fountains cut across the open space, with a low pedestrian bridge arcing over all. Tonight the sky of Ravnica was black as jet and studded with stars. It was on nights like this that Agyrem was most visible, the ghost city standing out white as snow on the ebony backdrop. Wren glanced up and felt, more than saw, the eyes of many souls watching him. Being a ghost must be boring.
Well, I might as well give the dead a good show. And if I die here, at least it’ll give Dack longer to wank off in the tunnel while he waits for me to come back.
Wren snickered to himself, then dashed from the safety of the shadows, spectral-sight and cloaking cantrips falling from his lips. His target was the central spire of New Prahv—Isperia’s chambers.
With a dancer’s grace, Wren twisted and turned and rolled and ducked around the vassals in the courtyard. One of New Prahv’s primary defensive security conceits was simply to cover nearly every square foot of the grounds with spirit patrols. Even an invisible interloper would be detected by the vassals if they came in contact with it. Here, Wren’s diminutive physicality and swiftness allowed him to do something most other infiltrators could not.
He was, literally, going to walk into Isperia’s room.
Reaching the footbridge, Wren balanced himself on the narrow railing—barely the width of Beatrix’s palm—and crossed over in a running squat, vassals trailing back and forth above his head, their white wrappings shining coldly in the light of evenly spaced glowspheres high above.
At the end of the bridge Wren folded himself into a somersault and rolled smoothly past marble statues and the odd triangular topiary to come to a brief stop behind a utility outbuilding. The wards around Isperia’s spire were extreme and unforgiving: hair-trigger detection lasers, trapdoors in the lawn, stiff stasis enchantments, invisible orbiting detention spheres, circling rocs equipped with night vision, plus more vassals…
In the old days, Wren and Bogey would have just assaulted Prahv from a ridiculous altitude, skipping all this footwork by using a precisely timed drop. The compact, curly-haired sphinx had been Wren’s best friend and business partner. A strange heist gone wrong had ended their friendship. Wren’s last memory of his friend was of the sphinx’s insides spilling out onto a warehouse floor, a Rakdos dagger flashing in the sickly light…
Wren had never taken on another partner.
The Schmazzgordios Guild had found him, through an agent known as Pillbox Poprocks. She’d helped him hunt down Rakdos agents during his grief-stricken, recklessly violent mourning. On one quiet gray twilight as they lay hidden in a roc rookery, Wren had officially promised her he’d join the eccentric guild. PB had kissed him…
When Wren awoke the next morning, she was gone. The smell of sugarweft candy lingered in the air. Wren hadn’t kissed a girl since. But he’d kept his word, joined up with Schmazz. And then, there was Beatrix…
Isperia’s tower loomed up in front of him. There was no Bogey, no PB, no Beatrix here. It was just a thief and the institutions that sought to hold him back. In the aftermath of Bogey’s murder, Wren had poured himself into studying Ravnica’s history, reading all the famous books, applying himself diligently to science and philosophy and minor spellcraft. PB had encouraged him.
“I know you. You’re undereducated by choice,” she’d said. “Because you’re afraid.”
It was true, of course. Wren Vinndrav had been raised by a merchant in Faraval, a hefty trust fund attached to his name… very unusual for an orphan of Ravnica. Hating the trappings of the bourgeoisie, Wren had spent most of his time in the alleys and parlors of the plane, ignoring the exhortations of his adoptive parents.
But after Bogey was murdered… Well, he’d want me to the best I could be, Wren reasoned. And he’d set himself on that course.
Windows shone with blue and white lights, encircling the most sanctified spire of New Prahv with a crown of luminescence. Isperia’s personal quarters. Wren inhaled. I sure miss you, Boegs.
The thief found footholds and handholds. And PB… where are you now? Slender fingers and toes dug into the spire and slithered gracefully upwards within the deep shadow cast by a neighboring tower. Murmuring old words, Wren implemented a diffusion spell that thinned his physical form to something flat and approximating a two-dimensional film of darkness.
The light from the window was bright. Wren touched the sill and breathed out. He promised information about my birth mother. It’s worth it. Pulling himself over the ledge, Wren slid into the personal space of Ravnica’s most famous sphinx.
Isperia lay curled up on a pillow the size of a small farm. Her whiskers lifted and fell softly in time with her breathing, brushing against the rich green velvet of her bed. Her deep blue feathered wings were folded and relaxed against her body. And next to her bed… there. That was it.
Wren smiled to himself. He slid across the room from shadow to shadow, ghost-silent. Isperia snorted and twitched in her sleep, but the thief didn’t falter. Breath by breath he crossed the room. When he was close enough, he reversed the diffusion spell. The intense nausea that accompanied the physical change would have leveled most magic-users, and the diffusion tactic was little-used by thieves for just that reason. Wren had devoted an entire year to to training against the side effect of the spell, with the reward being that now he could shrug off the debilitating seasickness.
His hand closed around the evidence his employer sought. There was a soft puff of air and Wren looked up to see the sphinx blink sleepily, flexing a claw in Wren’s direction. The cat wasn’t fully awake, but Wren’s thieves’ intuition told him his record-holding streak of detectionless lifts was about to come to an end. Ah well, now Sorrel will have her chance at the record. Wren didn’t mind. The freelance agent had always been sweet to him. She was pretty, too.
Wren tapped a black button his black tunic. Dack, you know how I’m known across Ravnica for having never been detected on a lift since I came of age? Well… come get me. Wren didn’t wait for a response. He tucked the target item—a gold coin—into a deep secret pocket in his vest. It was strange to find it here, despite his patron’s certainty… a treasure a sphinx would not have—but that a dragon might. Wren ducked and back-stepped into an obscured position behind an empty water dish the size of an elephant. He felt a tingle across the back of his neck and new his suspicions had been right.
“Little one, what are you doing here?” Isperia’s resonant voice purred around the room, reverberating in Wren’s ears, mind, and soul—
Explosions in the sky. Brilliant light flared all around New Prahv. The sphinx’s head jerked upward, alarmed and instantly losing interest in the shadow-colored thief. Hissing, she launched herself toward her open skylight. High above, rocs were already circling and horns blared their jolting warnings across the compound.
Dack’s rescue plan was fireworks. Wren shook his head.
As the bright colors spread across the night vistas and Isperia took flight from her spire to see what all the fuss was about, the master thief exhaled. “Well, something to be said for being the ‘funner’ mage, after all,” Wren muttered cheerily to himself. As if on cue, Dack appeared within a circle of burning light.
“Come on, Vinndrav. This exit portal cost me at least a year of my youthful good looks—get a move on!”
Wren jumped into the portal, poking Dack in the ribs as he passed. “Yeah, yeah, Fayden, sorry I got in the way of you getting in touch with yourself back there in the air vent—”
“You’re a pain in my ass, Vinndrav.” The portal shimmered around the figures.
“Dack! Now that my streak is broken, you can try for the record—oh wait, I guess you'd have successfully steal something without getting caught, first...”
“Let each aspire to his own glories, half-mast."
The two thieves vanished from Prahv in a dark halo.
Venser woke, disoriented. He was sure he’d heard something. Or heard it in my dreams? He sat up in bed, forcing his eyes to focus deep within the shadows in the corners of his room—no, not his room—Beatrix’s guest room.
Foggy memories swirled into his mind… Drinking contest at Dumple’s, armwrestling Dack… the minotaur, Schmazz, leading them into some kind of fragrant Golgari mushroom party… Wren stealing cognac from an Azorius chancellor’s vault… doing shots of cognac on the roof of a Boros garrison, right before setting a skunk loose in said garrison… Beatrix, laughing, smelling of cinders and soap… Beatrix, leaning close, her pink lips whispering something as they brushed against his neck...
There was a gust of wind outside, and Venser was sure he’d heard a sigh in the darkness. “Lil?” he said softly, wondering if it was his housemate—somehow having found out where he was staying, here to kick his ass after she’d had too much to drink again.
There was no reply, just the flicker of moonlit patterns across the far wall. Beatrix’s lodgings were simple and near the Izzet guildgate. It was secure. There was no reason for anything to follow them here. Venser listened carefully for several minutes, defensive spells on his lips. The moon moved. Minutes passed. Nothing.
Guess I’m paranoid… Venser’s head nodded down toward his chest. A flash of geistly white light bloomed into existence in front of him. Venser’s head snapped up, but the spirit lunged—
“Oh no you don’t,” said a familiar voice. Venser saw a glimmer of violet in the darkness, and heard a word or two of dark magic, then the attacking spirit vanished in a swath of shadow.
“Lil…?” the artificer stumbled out of Beatrix’s guest bed, reaching forward. His outstretched hands found nothing but cool, pale plaster walls.
I must be dreaming Venser thought, as he collapsed back down into bed. Too much Schmazzgordios beer…
...to be continued in Chapter 11: The Moneymaker
Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction