Karlov Manor was situated in the center of Orzhov territory. It lacked the sweeping openness of Ovitizia. But, it was much more elevated… and thus, closer to the stars. And it was secure. The elf could feel the presence of a host of Orzhov spirits continuously patrolling the grounds. She also sensed dire enchantments placed in layers around the perimeter. True, it was still basically house arrest, but the Grand Envoy’s house was simply so much better than the one the elf had been enduring until a few days ago.
It was nearing midnight and Emmara Tandris was still hard at work in her adopted garden: a multi-level veranda, bounded by masterfully sculpted iron railings and trellises, that completely encircled the fifth and sixth stories of Karlov Manor.
Orzhov territory felt far different than Selesnya—more dark corners, more moving shadows, harsher contrast between light and dark—but Emmara was starting to feel very comfortable. Teysa had wanted to give her access to the lower grounds but had ultimately deemed it not safe enough for the high-profile elf.
“You can have free run of these floors and the attached balconies,” Teysa had said, waving her cane dismissively at the ridiculously generous urban spread. “Do with them as you will. Wouldn’t kill us to have more green around here.”
Emmara had nodded, dumbstruck. Teysa had given her an inscrutable look, then gone back to work. Emmara hadn’t seen the advokist for nearly a week.
Taking the Grand Envoy at her word, Emmara had begun to extend the reach of the Manor’s existing flora and to carefully seed some that were uncommon to Orzhov regions. Intrigued by the ubiquitous velvety black roses that populated the Manor, Emmara had imported some white flowers that she felt would complement the darker hues. Jasmine, plumeria, and morning glory clustered gently around the ebony blooms, cradling the heavy roses in clouds of lightness.
The varied floral texture around the Manor was now both avant garde and elegant, and Emmara was sure that the Grand Envoy would appreciate the diversity of scent as well. The thought brought a quiet smile to her face, and Emmara reached out to touch one of the metal lattices. The ubiquitous Karlov ironwork had initially not appealed to the reedy blonde elf, but she quickly found they made sturdy foundations for complex, heavy floral arrangements and challenging growth patterns.
Many silver linings here. Emmara hummed to herself in the peaceful night, coaxing some ivy into draping loops along the frontage of the fifth floor veranda. Soft light was cast over the walkway at intervals by ornate gold glowspheres, and there were even natural full-wax candles—an unheard-of luxury in modern times—to add to the ambience. The candles were lovingly held in antique sconces of carved bone… lovely, despite the morbidity. Emmara extended a pale hand and brushed a bit of debris off one of the sconces.
Emmara jumped back out of reflex, even as she recognized the low, rich voice. Turning, she saw Teysa silhouetted in the archway of the fifth floor parlor.
“Grand Envoy, I’m so sorry. Still a bit jumpy,” Emmara laughed nervously. She inclined her head to the Orzhov Guildmaster and blushed self-consciously.
“It’s smart to be jumpy,” Teysa said, stumping out to the veranda with the support of her cane. “Besides… I crept up on you, like a… creep.” Lord Karlov winked at her and they both started to chuckle. The Guildmaster looked around curiously at the verdant lattices that surrounded them.
Emmara swept an arm towards her latest handiwork. “I thought this part of the railing looked a bit bare. And, I daresay the blacks look more black with the addition of the white blooms…”
“I’ve noticed,” Teysa said approvingly. “I apologize for being remiss in communication this week. I hope you have been comfortable?” The Grand Envoy’s pale face seemed etched with true concern. Her piercings glinted in the low light as she regarded Emmara with questioning, darkly arched brows and her trademark platinum eyes.
“Oh, very comfortable,” Emmara replied. “Thank you for inquiring.” Teysa smiled. Emmara noticed the Grand Envoy leaned heavily on her cane, and that her black silk dress was a bit rumpled.
“I think you’ve been working late,” Emmara murmured, without thinking. Teysa laughed.
“Perhaps you should go into law.” The Grand Envoy grinned. “You have astute powers of observation, it seems.”
Emmara felt herself turning red in the face. She started to look away when Teysa reached out and lightly touched her elbow.
“Do you mind if I sit here awhile—while you work?”
“N-no… No. Not at all.”
“Thank you,” Teysa said, lowering herself onto a bench. Emmara turned toward the railing, then back to the archway. Then she picked up a basket full of nightshade starters.
“What do you plan to do with that?” The Grand Envoy asked, nodding toward the poisonous plants.
“I’m not sure,” Emmara said, biting her lip. “I… thought that having some around might be useful, in a pinch—”
“I agree. Let’s make corsages from the blooms when we attend the Guildpact Ball.”
“The Guildpact… Ball?” Emmara felt faint. She put a hand on the railing to steady herself, cradling the basket of nightshade in the other.
“Yes. You should attend. You’re the Selesnya representative. Trostani can’t rip herself—itself—theirselves—whatever—out of the ground and cram into the ballroom at New Prahv, after all.”
Emmara considered. She’d be out in public as herself, for the first time in ages. Exposed. And Jace would be there.
“I have to go, and I think it’s only fair that you suffer, too.” Teysa was grinning.
“Will it be—”
“Secure?” Teysa said. “Of course. Jacob will be there, and I will take extra precautions.”
“Won’t it be—”
“Scandalous?” Teysa laughed. “Of course. Doesn’t that make it that much more appealing?”
Emmara thought about it, and as she did the nightshade starters in the basket quadrupled in size and sprouted tiny red berries.
“It does.” Emmara smiled at the Grand Envoy, plucking a bit of nightshade and tucking it behind her pointy right ear.
“Oh. My. God. There’s a bug in my pants.” Lucent Dao, acting Guildmaster of Rakdos, shook his left leg with vehemence.
“You can’t really call those pants, by any civilized definition,” Pivlic snapped, flapping sweatily up through another row of grapevines.
“They’re the latest style in chapbreeches!” retorted Dao. “But who would expect an imp to know anything about fashion, with your six-inch legs on a good day.”
“Well my third leg is a lot longer than yours and that’s what matters,” Pivlic growled, swatting a hornet away with a clawed hand and cursing.
Lucent didn’t answer. But a few seconds later he whimpered and stopped in the path. Pivlic flapped around to see what was the matter, and saw Lucent shaking dozens of earwigs off his toned and clean-shaven calf. The Rakdos moaned and reached down his vest, pulling out a caterpillar the size of a quill pen. Dao shrieked and flung it into the vines.
“I feel like a Golgari whore!” he wailed at Pivlic, wringing his hands and rushing to catch up with the imp. Pivlic rolled his eyes. As if I could save him from the insectoid assault.
“Please tell me you did not put on cologne this morning.” Pivlic eyed his business partner, sniffing suspiciously. Lucent huffed.
“Of course I did! It’s not like I’m going to pay five hundred zinos for a bottle of Zonot Legend Aquasterya III and not rock it!”
Pivlic looked to the heavens for patience. “Lucent. Do you know what the dominant note in Aquasterya III is, for the Void’s sake?”
“I dunno, Pivli. To me it smells like really good sex—with a really hot, really rich merfolk lord.” An audible buzzing was growing louder by the second.
“Yes. The smell of seabloom,” Pivlic said in a resigned monotone.
“What’s that buzzing?” Dao was swiveling his head around and swatting gnats from his fair shoulders.
“Utvaran Wasps,” Pivlic sighed. “Seabloom is known to mimic their mating secretions.”
“Oh fun!” Lucent said. “Wait, wait—what did you just say, Piv?!”
A couple hours later Rakdos Guildmaster and impish entrepreneur were soaking in an ice bath outside of the winery shed. It was time for their meeting with the guildless sharecroppers, and Pivlic had no better idea than to hold the meeting right there, in between the tool shed and the outhouses. Both Pivlic and Dao were naked and shivering, the wasp welts on their skins gradually calming.
A bored Gruul druid came over to add more ice to their tubs. She curled a lip at them in a sneer that would have skinned a boar.
“Zyra, would you please have the leader of the guildless meet us here? He or she can sit upon that… elegant… stump, and any other petitioners can line up and wait just there, near the nut tree.”
The druid snorted. “You do realize, imp, I am the daughter in the line of the shamans to Cizarsim himself, Lord of Chaos and—”
“Yes, Zyra, it is an honor to have you with us.” Pivlic said. Also, the economic value of your clan’s entire region is about forty zinos. If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t be working for us.
“Good. You should feel honored,” Zyra said. The young druid tossed her white hair and spun on her heel to do as Pivlic asked. She was talented at magic, and beautiful, and Pivlic was sure she’d find a way to make it in the craziness that was Ravnica.
“I can’t feel my pelvis,” Lucent said.
“Good,” Pivlic said, “That way you can actually be mentally present during this meeting.”
“Hey! I was pretty good with Opal, wasn’t I? If she’s renting our machines that’s an extra hundred grand in zinos a month at least…”
“Lucent, my ass is a topography of wasp stings because you thought a couple spritzes would do for a trip to the vineyard. Shut. Up. If you make any—any—suspect remarks, winks, grins, gestures, expressions, or et cetera during these guildless hearings, I swear I will personally—”
“Oh, that cropper’s cuuuute. Look at the definition in his waist! Bet it’s from pulling turnips.”
“Gods help me!” Pivlic breathed.
“I’m just kidding you, Pivli. You’re so easy.” Lucent reached across the tub of ice water and tweaked the imp’s cheek. Pivlic snapped at him and nearly took off the tip of the Guildmaster’s index finger. Dao laughed.
“Besides,” he said. “You know I’m all talk. Myc’s the only one for me.”
“This wage is horseshit!” the farmer shouted, and Pivlic looked anxiously around for Zyra.
“No, no, I mean, it might be shit, but it’s fair shit. Look, the Guildpact signed off on it!” Lucent stood up in the water—causing many guildless to glance away uneasily—and shoved an unfurled scroll in their direction. The Guildpact’s signature blazed true blue in the afternoon light.
The signature flared right below a long sentence, which Dao read aloud.
“After thoroughly investigating the matter, and concluding a wage of 3 zinos per hour is the average in Utvara, I sign here in full support of all guildless currently farming the land in dispute to be offered employment by the new venture at a rate of 3.5 zinos per hour, with no discrimination as to guild affiliation (or lack thereof), race, creed, color, age, marital status, orientation, or corporeal status.”
“But I make twice that selling turnips!” one sharecropper shouted.
“The Guildpact averaged in all the thrull labor and ogre-controlled areas of Utavara,” another said—more quietly, but still angry.
Lucent Dao shrugged.
“The land is ours. Our boss bought it, we’re managing it now,” he said, matter of factly. Pivlic admired the young Guildmaster’s cool before this crowd. It was a completely different Lucent than the one that had run screaming from bees a few hours prior. “You can take this deal, or you can get off our land,” Lucent concluded calmly. Very calmly. In fact, Pivlic realized the Guildmaster’s voice had dropped to just barely audible over the course of the last sentence. The imp watched his young friend. Lucent’s gaze moved from one guildless to the next, his expression cool, his pace unhurried. He seemed to look directly into the eyes of each member of the crowd.
Pivlic wiped his brow. Zyra finally appeared at his right.
“Need me to anoint some rowdies in the green and red fires?” she asked cheerfully. It was the happiest Pivlic had ever seen the young druid. He made a mental note to try and keep employee Zyra very, very happy.
“No, I think Dao’s got it handled…” Pivlic said quickly. “But thank you, I’m sure your talents will come in very handy soon enough…”
“Whatever, imp,” Zyra said, pouting. Pivlic was glad he’d never had any children—especially daughters.
“Zyra will take your signatures over there,” Dao was saying. Pivlic snapped to attention. The crowd of guildless was shuffling obediently—despite some grumbling here and there—towards the winery building. Lucent turned toward the imp and druid. “Zyra, gorgeous, if you please… will you kindly sign all those… citizens… into our service?” The Guildmaster grinned at the shaman and the two must have shared some kind of split second inside joke, because the intractable Gruul whelp was giggling.
“Yes, Lucent,” Zyra said, and hurried off. Pivlic blinked. He was obviously too old for this shit.
“I need a vacation,” the imp sighed, sinking up to his nose in the icy water.
“You can vacation when you’re dead. You’re an imp, after all,” Lucent said, laughing. The Rakdos Guildmaster slid deeper into the ice bath, too. “What an exciting day. You know, I think I kind of like this numb-crotch feeling after all, Pivli. I feel ten slab skinnier, and I’m pretty sure the cold water is shrinking my butt-pores...”
Pivlic submerged his entire head in the frigid tub.
The sunset was burningly beautiful as it scalded the rocky Utvaran expanses with hues of orange and scarlet. Jacob saw the vineyard come into view, and checked his pocketwatch. Thirty seconds behind schedule. The ghostly agent clucked to his mount with a gentle hand. The tall grey gelding responded with eagerness, quickening its gait.
Jacob patted the horse’s shoulder fondly. “Thank you, Seraph. I’d rather be on time and get this over with,” he murmured. Seraph snorted and kicked up extra dust on the unimproved road.
The horse was all for show, of course. Jacob could have just as easily floated or teleported to the site. But the steed had the desired effect as Teysa Karlov’s right-hand geist reined to a stop in front of the dishevelled imp and Guildmaster who stood in front of the winery building.
Jacob noted with pleasure that the imp, Pivlic, eyed the horse with envy while the Rakdos crossed his arms and put a lot of energy into looking extremely disinterested.
“Guildmaster Dao. Pivlic,” Jacob said, dismounting and bowing low with respect.
“Jacob,” Pivlic nodded in return. Lucent Dao looked at his fingernails, a raised eyebrow the only acknowledgment he deigned to give.
“I am only here to inspect the contract, and then I’ll be on my way and out of yours.”
“This way,” Pivlic said, motioning with a clawed hand. Dao stepped in front of him and pushed open the door to the winery.
Jacob entered the cool interior of the building. At least, he thought it looked cool. An ogre and a Simic guildmage sat at the other end of the simple room, hunched atop stools and drinking something frothy from rustic mugs.
“Jacob, this is our Master of Labor, Garulsz—and our Science Advisor, Marivere Villis Zog.”
“A pleasure,” Jacob said. The ogre raised her mug and the guildmage inclined her head in recognition. Pivlic waved Jacob toward an unoccupied table upon which documents were spread and a quill pen was parked at the ready.
Jacob walked over to the documents. He stood at ease in front of the table, his eyes expertly scanning the paperwork. As Teysa’s manservant and spectral agent, Jacob took his time. Pivlic kept his hands laced as he flapped quietly in place. Lucent sighed and looked out the window.
After several minutes, Jacob looked up and nodded at Pivlic. The imp’s eyes glinted brightly.
“This looks fine to me,” Jacob said. He picked up the quill. “Grand Envoy Karlov hereby approves the sale of this land to Opal Treakoff.” The specter signed the documents with a flourish. Pivlic audibly clapped his hands and exhaled. The Rakdos smiled silently and reached for a decanter.
“Thank you,” Pivlic said, flapping over to “shake” Jacob’s hand. Dao said nothing but did pass around glasses of wine. Of course, Jacob could not partake.
“My pleasure,” the specter said. “Grand Envoy Karlov is expecting my return. Good luck.” Jacob left the fleshies to their petty celebration. He mounted Seraph and, with passionate relief, turned the horse toward Karlov Manor.
Steed and rider were ghosts of speed beneath the Ravnican twilight.
Jacob could only think of getting home. The Lord had lately been spending much of her free time on the fifth and sixth floors.
“Knock, knock,” Doc said.
“Who’s there,” Tezzeret asked mechanically, his mind elsewhere as the voice in his head prepared to torment him with another inane joke.
“No, there’s someone knocking,” Doc hissed. Tezzeret looked up from the documents he was holding in his etherium hand. The formidable metal-enhanced planeswalker listened quietly for a few moments, sitting still as a stalking panther within his dimly-lit office.
“I don’t hear anything. You must be losing it,” Tezzeret said to Doc as he returned to working on the contracts Bolas had given him.
“You’re the one with the voice in your head! You’re losing it! I know I heard something.”
“It’s the sound of me trying to ignore you.”
“There! There it was, again! Did you hear it?”
Tezzeret checked a growling sigh and got up from his desk. The black Ravnican-styled cloak he wore swirled around his leanly muscular frame. He flipped his long steel-colored dreads over his shoulder as he walked to the door. Placing his gloved etherium hand on the wood, he cast a minor detection spell.
“Is anyone there?” he asked amicably. There was the sound of a tiny explosion in the hallway and a shrill squeak. Tezzeret swung open the door.
“Delivery?” said a thrull with no eyes, no ears, and only a tiny round hole for a mouth. It held up a flat, round fleece-wrapped package in its puttylike hands.
“From who?” Tezzeret said sternly, glaring down at the pallid thrull. It made a whistling sound through its mouth.
“The thief, master! From the thief, the thief, the thief!”
“Why were you sneaking around out here?”
“Metal-arm, metal-arm, metal-arm! Bad, bad, bad reputation.” The thrull held out the package again.
“Well, that’s true,” Tezzeret mused as he bent down to take the delivery. The thrull thrust it towards him as if very eager to leave. “Get out of here,” Tezzeret growled at the creature. It turned its featureless face away and scurried back down the hall, running sideways using two legs and one arm as it smacked itself on the head with its other hand. Tezzeret shook his head and slammed the door shut.
“That wasn’t slightly creepy or anything,” Doc said, zinging around Tezzeret’s brain like a fly in a jar. “Open it! What is it, Tezz?”
“It’s Bolas’s business, not yours.”
“Wait, if you know what it is, then I must already know what it is, since I’m in your head.”
“Brilliant, Doc.” Tezzeret put the package on his desk and flicked open a panel on the gauntlet of his left arm. A shiny oval made of jet and surrounded by finely wrought silver stared out like a black, unblinking eye. “Bolas,” Tezzeret said to the gem. The surface flickered and a small reflection of the Elder Dragon appeared in the gauntlet.
“Lord Bolas, the evidence just arrived,” Tezzeret said in a bored voice. The dragon in the gem bulged forward as if he strained at the confines of the jewel. His excitement was palpable, the draconic energy pulsing from the gem up Tezzeret’s arm.
“Did you look at it? Unwrap it. Let me see!” The dragon’s voice was uncharacteristically charged, too. Tezzeret obediently snapped the twine and pulled back the fleece from the package. “Hold your arm up so I can get a clear view of it, you dolt,” Bolas hissed. “Push that candle closer.”
Tezzeret did as he was told. The gem began to shudder beneath the force of Bolas’s energy.
“There is no question. It is her.” The elder dragon said. “She never could be far from her collection.” The gauntlet began to shake so violently with Bolas’s wrath that Tezzeret had to clamp his etherium hand over his other arm. The dragon’s voice was hoarse. “How dare she come to this plane!”
Tezzeret had never heard his master in such a state. The notorious artificer wondered if he should feel privileged to witness the Elder Dragon having an emotional breakdown. Tezzeret knew what would happen, but he couldn’t resist. Bolas had tricked him out of years of his youth, then had enslaved him, and had implanted the equivalent of a shock collar in his brain. It was insane, but Tezzeret just had to say it.
“You’re a shit, Bolas. My father was a shit but I bet you’re a hundred times worse. I bet you’re the shittiest father in the entire Multiverse, in fact. Why in the Abyss wouldn’t she come to Ravnica?”
There was a pause. Tezzeret braced himself.
“I’m going to be predictable here,” Bolas said calmly, “And just have Doc fry your testes.”
Then the shock came. Tezzeret laughed maniacally as the smell of singed hair filled the room. When it was over, Tezzeret found that he was lying on the floor, smoke wafting from his body. The pain was so bad that for several minutes he thought the dragon might have blinded him, too.
“Sorry, boss,” Doc whispered. “I have to do it when he tells me to.”
Tezzeret chuckled hoarsely. “I know, Doc. It’s fine. I’m languishing in excruciating pain in the comfort of my own office. What more could a kid from the slum ask for?”
Tezzeret smiled up at the ceiling. You can hurt me, Bolas, but you can’t win. By enslaving me you’ve ensured you’ll never be rid of me. I’m the most dangerous pet you’ve ever owned, and when the muzzle breaks, I’ll bite the hand and eat the heart. Look forward to it.
Niv-Mizzet’s trail was easy to follow. It was obvious the dragon couldn’t fathom being the subject of surveillance and was unused to taking any kind of precaution. He was, after all, the most dominant dragon on Ravnica—the only dragon, in fact.
Tezzeret sailed behind Niv-Mizzet, riding a mechanized roc that was quadruple-cloaked and partially phased to avoid detection. The construct and its planeswalker rider tailed the great Firemind as the dragon rode winds so high above Ravnica that even Agyrem appeared to be below their vantage point.
“Are we there yet?” Doc whined.
“I’m not speaking to you at the moment,” Tezzeret said. “I’m not angry, but the fact of the matter is my reproductive capabilities may have been compromised. That’s hard to forgive a brother, Doc.”
“I uh, don’t really see you as the paternal type, Tezz,” Doc said. “And I’m not just saying that to get you to let me off easy.”
“I’m not the paternal type.” Tezzeret guided the roc in a loop as Niv-Mizzet took a sudden, steep dive through a swirling bank of clouds. A glimpse at the land told Tezzeret they were in a remote area of Utvara, near Zomaj Hauc’s dragon egg disaster site. The Firemind flew low, eyeing the ground suspiciously. Then he flew on, toward one of the Izzet water refineries. Most of Ravnica’s population didn’t even know such things existed on the overpopulated, urban plane. Daily life was so centered on the city, so narrow in scope, that few Ravnicans ever even considered the possibility that there were secrets in the corners of their world.
Only the hardiest scientists and the most foolish entrepreneurs might think to look behind what appeared to be a boring fog bank at the edges of the city reaches. Only true adventurers might scale what appeared to be a sheer, endless rock face to see what was on the other side. Ravnica’s secrets were not so much cleverly concealed as simply kept safe due to the very culture of the plane itself.
A fissure suddenly gaped up at Tezzeret. They were not quite at the refinery. The great red dragon took a nosedive and plummeted through the steam rising from the huge crack in the earth. Tezzeret looked back. The fissure seemed to connect to the Hauc crater via a long series of spidery imperfections that webbed the rocky Utvaran landscape. Niv-Mizzet had disappeared.
“Hold on, Doc.” Tezzeret directed the mechanical roc the same direction the dragon had gone—straight down. Steam rushed into the artificer’s face, but it was bearably hot.
“This stinks,” Doc noted. The fragrance of sulphur and rot grew thicker in the air the further down they flew. The only light was directly below, a yellowish green glow that did not pierce the dark that surrounded the roc as it descended.
The trip had taken hours. Tezzeret was tired of waiting on the dragon. Niv-Mizzet was languidly soaking as if this place was his personal spa. Nothing interesting had happened on this entire reconnaissance mission. Bolas could suck a cytoplast.
“This place is wonderful, Tezz! Phenomenal! How can you not be happy to be here?” Doc was buzzing excitedly in his brain, apparently overwhelmed by the natural wonder that was Ravnica’s best-kept secret—the underground sea.
“It has its uses,” Tezzeret said. He had, of course, known about the sea for years. As master of the Infinite Consortium (after he’d wrested it away from Bolas), Tezzeret had used it for specific smuggling operations that called for the highest level of security. Only about five people on the plane’s topside probably knew about the existence of the sea, and all of them wanted to keep it a secret for their own reasons. Tezzeret took a moment to once again vehemently curse the planeswalker who had taken the Consortium from him... that damnable pouting asshat Jace Beleren. Foolish boy had signed his own funeral documents with that move. Tezzeret never forgets.
In the immediate vacinity, slick black rock gave way to chartreuse water eerily lit from its depths. The roc clung to a stalactite that gave Tezzeret a good vantage point from which to spy on Niv-Mizzet and his bird bath. The dragon was now floating on his back in a seaweed-heavy area of the lagoon. Miles ahead, Tezzeret could see the point where the cavelike structures ended and the ceiling rose to invisible heights. There, the water changed from swamplike to hues of blue and gray, and even pink where the strange zonot lights reflected off the surface.
Tezzeret flew the roc down to the shore and parked it behind a stand of natural columns. Niv-Mizzet was snoring. Tezzeret left the roc cloaked but phased himself back in. There was no way that bloated red lizard was going to notice him now.
“Voyeurism seems to ill suit you, stranger.”
A dozen spells came to Tezzeret’s mind in an instant, and his non-etherium hand closed around the spike he wore on his belt. The interloper had spoken from directly behind him, from within the shadows of the sea stone.
“But it seems to suit you perfectly,” Tezzeret said as adrenaline tingled in his muscles, preparing him for a response to whatever the sneak might do.
“Not so much suits as serves. My particular blessing prevents me taking part in most face-to-face activities.” There was the sound of fabric sliding over sand. Tezzeret tensed. “Oh, don’t bother turning around, stranger. You’d regret it, you see. And I mean you no harm… not yet, at least.” The voice was deep and haunting, definitely not human.
“What is it?” Doc hissed in a panic. “Turn around so I can see!”
“Shut up, Doc.” Tezzeret replied. The sliding steps had stopped just behind the artificer. He could feel the thing’s breath on his shoulder.
“I sense two, though I see only one,” the voice said. “And just now, did you speak to it?”
“That’s my ‘blessing.’” Tezzeret shrugged with a chuckle. “I don’t get much alone time these days.” Tezzeret stiffened as a silky tendril—of scales—slid gently under his cloak, over his left shoulder and curled around his tricep. The touch was light and soft, a caress.
“You have a whisper of the infinite about you,” said the voice.
“And I think I’ve heard of you,” Tezzeret replied. Another scaled tentacle touched him, traveling up the side of his neck and making itself comfortable in his hair. The mysterious visitor was so close behind him now that he could feel its body press up against his back. It felt like a female. Tezzeret was surprised to find himself grinning.
“What’s this all about,” he said, as more tendrils availed themselves of his body. He breathed deeply as one strung itself languidly around his neck and draped down over his chest… while another writhed against his lower back before snaking around to gracefully encircle his waist.
“Nothing,” the voice said. The tentacles pulled Tezzeret closer to her. He laughed again—unconcerned with his welfare. Doc, either she’s groping me… or this is the weirdest assassination attempt I’ve ever had the pleasure of enduring…
Fry her! Doc panted. Tezzeret’s pleasure was increased even more by the anxiety in Doc’s voice. He leaned back into the interloper’s embrace and felt Doc squirming around in a panic inside the confines of his brain.
“Your friend doesn’t like me,” the voice said, stroking Tezzeret’s cheek, this time with a hand—a green, clawed, serpentine hand—but humanoid nonetheless.
Tezzeret turned his face toward her voice but didn't look back. “It’s fine. We’re not really friends.”
“Are we friends?” the voice said, with a soft puff of breath near his ear. She smelled like roots of ivy freshly pulled from the earth. Charcoal-rich black sand… and a chemical Tezzeret didn’t recognize. Even a little fried maize, perhaps…
“Depends. What else can you do with these?” Tezzeret nodded toward the nearest tentacle. He felt Doc cowering in the recesses of his mind. A glance up told him Niv-Mizzet would probably be napping for hours.
“Close your eyes and I’ll show you,” she said.
“Make it worth my while. I’m a working man.” Tezzeret unsnapped the communication gauntlet from his forearm and dropped it into the dark, lapping waters of the underground shore. Bolas’s jet gem gleamed malevolently up from its soggy position on the ground. Tezzeret put his heel down on the gauntlet and pressed until he heard a satisfying pop. Dark shards and sparkling ebony dust scattered across the wet rock.
“Oh, dear,” said the voice, “Was it wise to waste such a valuable jewel? At the very least we could have sold it, or perhaps you could have carved my likeness into it as a memento of this tryst.”
Tezzeret laughed. “I can buy you better trinkets.” The artificer tapped his skull. “And I’ll carve your face into the Forum of Azor if you can keep the voice in my head quiet.”
Paper-dry lips brushed against Tezzeret’s jaw as she breathed her words into his skin. “Ravnica does deserve a new monument.”
Tezzeret held up a snaking tendril in his hand and let it run through his fingers, watching the inches of perfect scales traverse his palm in a green-and-orange diamondback pattern. “I’ve always been attracted to ambitious women,” he mused, closing his eyes.
...to be continued in Chapter 12: Self-Esteem
Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction