Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Retribution in Ravnica 13: Over the Mountain

Venser was walking in the desert.

Shiv, he thought to himself, as his eyes blurred with heat-induced tears. He rubbed his palms against his face and blinked, squinting at the arid landscape. Better watch out for basilisks.

The wind rose and flung sand through his hair. Venser reached up and brushed it out. He remembered something Liliana had said on Mirrodin.

“Unngh. I adore Jor’s hair. It’s soft as a mink’s ass!” She’d laughed, leaning back on her piece of rock like it was a throne. Venser had been a zombie then, reanimated from the bowels of Mirrodin-slash-New Phyrexia by one of the necromancer’s selfishly handy spells.

Venser idly scrunched a handful of his own hair, and decided it felt like… hair. He couldn’t remember if anyone else had ever touched his scalp. He shrugged to himself. Doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The artificer took a step forward and found himself on the edge of an oasis. A still pool of black water was in front of him, reflecting the harsh sun back up into the sky. Ahead, he saw some low mountains casting a thin blade of shade before them. He looked down into the water and felt dizzy. The artificer knelt, to steady himself, and watched the heat waves draw steam up into the chartreuse-tinted horizon.

He remembered something he’d thought right after he’d discovered he was a planeswalker, right after they’d finally closed all the Rifts. Everyone was going somewhere else… returning home, or off to pursue some new expedition or agenda. He’d felt powerful, hopeful.

It will be a good life.

“It will be a good life.” Venser grinned, quoting himself aloud to the hot, black water. Then he laughed.

The ground shook, sending ripples through the oasis. The water swirled, tossed, congealed—Venser was looking down at a fresco. He peered closer. It was Elspeth.

She stood in a temple. Behind her, a humongous satyr was shown falling from the heavens. In front of her was a winding road that culminated at a tree under which a man sat, waiting. The temple itself was ornate and large, decorated in symbols of death. The figure of Elspeth held a mask in one hand, and in the other she clutched a blade—a blade that was piercing her own heart. The face in the fresco was looking upward, an expression of fatigue and pain etched into the stone that was as raw and immediate as if Elspeth had been standing in front of Venser right there, in the flesh.

Venser furrowed his brow. It appeared that she hadn’t found the peace she desperately sought. Perhaps my sacrifice didn’t make the least difference. Koth had still been fighting the Phyrexians when Venser encountered him, and now it looked like Elspeth had simply moved from strife on her home plane to strife on Mirrodin to strife on yet another plane.

Damn this world. A guy can literally donate his entire heart and it doesn’t even matter.

“It will be a good life,” Venser said again, and laughed. The fresco crumbled.

Two dunes behind the oasis rose in height and sand fell away from them until Venser found himself staring at two huge, green eyes. The artificer looked up and realized night had fallen. He shivered, noticing how beautiful the violet stars were in the black sky.

The artificer looked back down at the desert, met the oversized draconic eyes in the sand.

“Bolas. It’s been awhile,” he said. “Why have you shown this to me?”

A voice answered from everywhere, and nowhere.

“Little artificer. I want you to get your ass off Ravnica and go to Theros.”

“This is a dream, isn’t it,” Venser said. The giant emerald eyes cast Venser’s reflection back at him. He was an elongated, pale, incidental blemish on the dragon’s ebony irises.

Like the rest of your hopes for your life, yes.”

Venser was sure he heard mockery in Bolas’s monotoned reply. But, like so much else… it didn’t really matter.


“Next.” Gideon Jura, disguised as the cleric Ar-Alan, exercised extreme discipline as he set down his pen and folded his hands in front of his face. He wanted to break something, but didn’t. An ex-mercenary thug turned planeswalking man of God, Gideon was military by nature and followed (for better or worse) a passionately righteous, somewhat eccentric moral compass. Shifting his weight in the unforgiving chair, Gideon wondered if his back was about to go into another spasm. Decades of fighting had begun to take their toll on the planeswalker, and at the moment all Gideon could wonder was why in the Abyss Lieutenant Reed had brought him such a damnable hard chair… and what kind of new cretin would next step up to volunteer for service in the Order of Heliud.

Gideon had been posted on Ravnica for some time now. His last major assignment had been to investigate the Purifying Fire of Regatha… an assignment that had gone somewhat awry due to the involvement of a fiery walker named Chandra. Needless to say, Gideon’s employer was less than pleased at the destruction of one of his major temples and Chandra’s escape. The truth was that Gideon had let her go. In fact, Gideon had followed the fire mage to Zendikar, where it looked like she had stumbled upon another magical relic of immense power. The girl was like a magnet for artifacts… and for trouble. Gideon smiled behind his clasped hands and it seemed his headache ebbed just a little.

His smile faded as thoughts of Chandra melted into thoughts of the Eldrazi. The Aether-powered titans of destruction had wreaked havoc on Zendikar, and now were possibly loose in the multiverse. Gideon had meant to find allies on Ravnica, walkers interested in re-containing the Eldrazi threat… but all that had happened was him getting embroiled in another petty political mess so common to the city-covered plane.

Then Gideon’s employer had contacted him, forbidding him from leaving Ravnica until the “Jace situation” was handled. And so here he was, undercover as a cleric, recruiting for The Order.

Next,” Gideon snapped, his head still resting in his hands.

“Apologies, honored Ar-Alan.” Lieutenant Reed’s crisp voice came from directly in front of him. “We had a little trouble containing this volunteer. He is so eager to work for The Order of Heliud that he cut in line and we had to quell some squabbles.”

Gideon clenched his jaw to hold back a scalding reply to the Lieutenant, who had been nothing but dutiful since he began his stay at Independence Crown, the official building of Ravnica’s guildless citizens. As a career soldier, Gideon could smell insubordination and Reed stank of it. She hates my guts. She’d dutifully slit my throat in the night, I bet, if she wasn’t white-aligned. Gideon’s anger gave way to mirth and he chuckled silently. Reed reminded him of himself, and he had to admit he was fond of the soldier despite the annoyingly subtle ways she undermined him. Lieutenant Reed had conviction, and that was a quality Gideon could always appreciate, even in his enemies.

A disheveled old man fell to his knees in front of the recruitment desk.

“What is he doing” Gideon raised an eyebrow.

“I think he’s kissing your feet, sir,” Lieutenant Reed said helpfully, making no move to stop the volunteer. Over near the hall entrance, some young volunteers were snickering and pointing from the waiting area. The old man was blubbering and rubbing his head on Gideon’s boots under the desk. The snuffling noises were punctuated by outbursts of “sir!” and “please” and “your godliness.”

“Get up, if you would be part of The Order,” Gideon said calmly, his low voice carrying far across the hall. The other would-be Heliud recruits quieted and shifted uncomfortably in line. “No man bows to another here unless it is his superior officer. You are not part of our ranks, so there is no need for—and you have no right toyour current behavior.” The snuffling stopped.

A head popped up over Gideon’s desk. It was so sudden that Gideon, a seasoned warrior and veteran of all kinds of awful battles, jumped back in his seat and tipped over his flagon of mead.

“Well howdy-dowdy CLERIC Arlane!” The old man was beaming at Gideon over the edge of the desk with a battered grin and matted hair sticking out in multiple directions. Reed snapped her fingers for the custodian to clean up the mead. Gideon looked at the volunteer in front of him. Silently, he brought a righteous curse down upon Nicol Bolas.

Gideon cleared his throat. “Stand up. Your name?”

“Damir, yer godliness. That’s said like dame, ya know, like a sassy lady, and myr, one of dem little mechanical birdies wit’the big heads, kinda cute—”

“That’s enough.” Gideon blinked, a deep furrow forming in his brow as Dimir’s words sunk in. The old man stood in a posture that could only be described as a caricature of “at attention.”

Turning his scrutiny away from Damir, Gideon motioned to Lieutenant Reed.

“Sir?” the Lieutenant stepped forward with alacrity.

“Reed, I thought I saw someone in line flash a knife. Go check it out.”

“Sir, we already patted every single inch of every one of them down for weapons.”

“Do it again, then, Lieutenant.” Gideon smiled at the young soldier. She returned his look with an icy nod, and walked briskly away. When she was on the other side of the hall, Gideon turned back to the old man in front of him.

Gideon lowered his voice. “Damir. Where did you see the mechanical bird?”

“Permission to speak, sir Cleric sir?”

“Damir, I just asked you a question. You don’t need to—nevermind. Yes, Damir. Permission to speak. And speak quietly, that’s an order.”

“Well I was doin’ my magic, sir, and in one of tha holes, this little bird appeared. It looked at me and turned its head like this—” Damir cocked his head to one side and crossed his eyes. “—And I was curious, never havin’ seen one of dem before, so I just asked it congenially like, ‘hey birdie, now what’re you called, huh?’ and the thing kinda made a clicky-beeping noise, but in mah head I heard the word myr, just like that! Ain’t it something? None of that rabble believes me, o’ course.” Damir waved a dismissive hand back at the line of volunteers.

“Of course not,” Gideon said. “Congratulations, Damir. You’re officially part of the Gateless militia of The Order of Heliud.”


Liliana looked at the object in her hand.

That little shit!” She flung the bit of cloak away. It hit the far wall of Venser’s flat, where it tumbled placidly and flaccidly to the ground.

The artificer’s floor of the apartment building was empty. And not just empty of his personal effects—which were minimal anyway—but of his essence. And that meant he had ’walked somewhere.

The emptiness and the bit of blue fabric told Liliana more than enough. Sometimes, when planeswalkers were in a hurry, or careless, or distracted while trying to enter the Blind Eternities... a shoe could be left behind, or a lock of hair or piece of clothing severed when the portal into the Aether closed behind them. It was obvious that Venser had made a sudden decision to leave, but that it had been a well-thought-out and deliberate one. He may have had things on his mind, but there was no foul play. The room was clean and tidy; the artificer’s fancy mechanical toothbrush with the chiming clock on top and the wind-up whirring feature was gone. Liliana had always speculated the toothbrush could make a very, very fun toy but had never gotten around to being able to swipe it without her housemate noticing. She scowled, realizing that now she might never get to test her theory… maybe she’d ask Ral to mock one up for her. 

Yes, all of Venser’s intimate items were gone. And the bit of cloak on the floor was from the one Liliana had given him.

The necromancer put the fingers of her left hand to her temple and exhaled slowly. Her thoughts went to Bolas. Either he’d be royally pissed that she’d managed to lose their in-house builder, or… considering his unfounded accusations that Venser was a distraction to her—the great dragon would be relieved that the artificer was out of the picture.

“And now he’ll have every reason to make me work with Tezzeret,” Liliana said, her tongue dripping with disgust as she rolled her eyes and imagined trying to actually complete a mission with the metal-armed lunatic. The last time she’d run into etherium-for-brains they’d almost dueled to the death. The other agent had near-limitless access to annoying relics, and one of Liliana’s Rules To Live By was Do not to work with idiots who A) actively want to harm you and B) have a natural advantage if it comes down to a duel.

A half-dozen different scenarios of working with Tezzeret flashed through her mind, and the necromancer gagged. “Over my dead body,” Liliana said, and immediately cringed at her own choice of words.

Decision made, Liliana summoned the rusalka she’d assigned to spy on Venser. “Do a better job watching the building than you did watching the artificer,” she said coldly. “Or I’ll wrap you up in a big bow and ship you to Szadek.” The specter blinked its eye sockets once, then bowed low. Liliana nodded curtly and the spirit vanished back into the air.

“Souls are so lazy these days.” Liliana grumbled to herself as she slammed the door to Venser’s floor and stomped up the stairs to her own.

Liliana wasn’t a mind-mage and had never aspired to stretch her talents in that direction, but over the course of her long and selfish life she’d picked up more than a few useful tricks from the blue-balled brain trust.

Liliana was a cerberus, but she could imitate a bird dog if she needed to.


Kallist made no show of hiding his dislike of the Blood Baron, and neither did Biggs or Murdock, but their host seemed to weather their disgust and disdain with something akin to glee.

“I take both pride and pleasure in my work, so the opinions of others serve as nothing more than entertainment,” said Lourdes of Vizkopa, answering Kallist’s thoughts as though she could hear them--not the first time she’d done such since they’d become “acquainted.”

Kallist nodded. “Just take us to the door.”

“Tsk, rushing from task to task--a sign of low breeding.” The baron was mincing through her gratuitously long “parlor” at a snail’s pace, and Kallist was getting nervous. Biggs was fidgety, and Murdock looked on the verge of a murderous rage. Kallist could empathize with his team. The spectral assassin didn’t have a stomach to turn, but if he did, it would be doing pirouettes. The cages in Kallist’s peripheral vision held horrors that would make a swiftblade weep, or give the most hardened justiciar relentless nightmares.

“The door,” Kallist repeated mechanically. He needed to get his team out of here as soon as possible.

The baron pouted. “Lord Teysa didn’t warn me that you three would be so dreadfully boring.” They’d finally reached the iron-barred egress at the north end of the parlor. The baron slid a skeletal hand into the spotless white sleeve of her silk tunic and produced a ring of keys. The keys appeared twisted and misshapen to the naked eye, carved from bone.

Human, Kallist noted.

Lourdes put a monocle to her left eye and peered at the keys. Kallist knew from Teysa’s description that through the right filter the keys appeared in their true form - finely crafted holy relics (still carved from human bone) from Orzhov’s ancient history.

“The only reason I permit the baron to exist is to the ensure the keys are under my control and not the Obzedat’s. Lourdes hates the Obzedat at least as much as I do, as to why… I have no idea.” Teysa had brushed aside Murdock’s concerns about trusting a known sadist, suspected necrophiliac and convicted organ smuggler with the success of the mission.

“You’re dead and kill people for a living, and I trust you,” the Grand Envoy had said with bored nonchalance, and that had been the end of the discussion.

Kallist had had more confidence in Teysa’s assertion before he met the Blood Baron of Vizkopa in person. Now he wished that offing Lourdes was also part of the mission, but Teysa had specifically forbid it.

“If anything happens to the baron, the Obzedat will know something’s up,” she’d said, without explanation.

In life, Kallist had always hated the extreme opacity of Orzhov jobs. After death, he was nonplussed to find out that his corporeal status did nothing to change the annoyance factor of working with the Syndicate.

What also hadn’t changed was that Kallist was an experienced professional. The bone key clicked deep within the iron door, and a suffocating silence emanated from the passage beyond.

“Godspeed, hirelings. I almost hope the Council wins… I wouldn’t mind having you three as attendants for my caged darlings. Especially you, with your heroic stoicism!” Lourdes of Vizkopa stroked a clawed nail across what once had been Kallist’s jaw.

Kallist glided past her without a word, grateful that he couldn’t feel. Professional. It was simply an order of operations problem. After they took out the Obzedat, they could come back and deal with the Blood Baron.

Let’s do this he signed to Biggs and Murdock. The passage was black around them, but up ahead it was filled with a thick grey fog, the walls and floor undulating like a disturbed pond.

You sure you don’t wanna go on a date with the baron first? Biggs signed back, punctuating his statement with rapid thrusting motions.

I have to admit, your children would be beautiful Murdock chimed in.

Fuck you both sideways Kallist signed back, shaking his head. Teysa’d better make good on her end of this deal.

The three assassins disappeared into the unnatural fog.


Venser rubbed his nose. Theros was unsettlingly pungent to him, which seemed strange considering he’d grown up in a swamp and had just come from the dirtiest plane in the  multiverse. Theros smelled like a heady mix of too-green herbs, roasting meats, and blood on metal. The breeze from the east brought a floral bouquet that slapped him in the face with sweetness, then when the wind changed direction he was assaulted with a greasy smokiness. The sky seemed low, heavy, and overbearing. The artificer felt its nearness like a yoke.

If Elspeth really was here, and Bolas wasn’t just jerking his chain yet again, Venser wasn’t sure the prospect of staying on this plane appealed to him. But perhaps he’d just get used to it, as he had with Windgrace’s gladehunter mark and Liliana’s various forms of abuse.

Kneeling down in the thigh-high golden grass, Venser opened his pack. He’d brought only the essentials: a bit of food, his journal, a tracer, two homemade spellbombs, and his toothbrush.

That’s just what I was looking for!” snapped a voice behind him.

Venser leaped to his left and spun, nearly pissing himself in surprise. “What do y--” He stopped, in shock and some amount of horror, as he recognized his housemate squatting down to rummage in his things. Liliana’s pale wrist darted down like a viper, her slender fingers brushing aside a croissant and the tracer, before she plucked his toothbrush decisively from the pack.

“I’m borrowing this,” she announced as she stood up, glaring at him as she stuffed the artifact snugly into the black leather bodice she was wearing. She crossed her arms and stared derisively at him from beneath the heavy black cloak that covered her head and swirled from her shoulders down to her ankles. Venser felt his pulse quicken.

“What are you doing here,” he said flatly, running his hand through his hair. Liliana smirked. She flicked a grasshopper from her arm and sighed deeply.

“I really thought we were friends, Venser. And then you abandon me, just like that.”

Venser made sure he had several defensive spells in mind before he continued. “I’m not sure what I am to you, Lil, but you have plenty of other friends.” He raised an eyebrow at her.

Liliana laughed. “Oh, so this is about Ral?”

Venser shrugged. “I don’t know, is it?”

“Fine. I’ll lock my door next time, okay? I admit, that was an awkward moment.” Liliana shook off her hood. “Ugh, I don’t remember it being this hot last time I was on Theros.” She pulled her hair up into a sloppy bun on top of her head and fanned herself with her other hand while she waited for Venser’s reply. He just stared at her. After a few moments of silence she was visibly annoyed.

“What?” the necromancer asked peevishly, shifting her weight under his gaze.

“Why are you here, Lil?”

She tried to look contrite, which almost made the artificer laugh out loud. “To apologize! And I just did. Now let’s go home and get back to work, shall we?”

Venser gave her a strange look. “Home. To Ravnica.”

“Yes - that’s what I just said. Let’s get back to Ravnica and finish the job.” Liliana’s eyes were wide and full of appeal, her lips parted in a delicate smile. She was oblivious to her slip - or had it been? Venser looked away from her and shook his head.

“I’m not going back. I have something to do here.” He moved toward his pack and began putting things in various pockets on his person, glancing up just in time to see the veneer of Liliana’s sweetness melt away into an unflattering scowl. This time Venser did laugh, and had the satisfaction of watching his housemate’s glare freeze over into a dangerous squint.

“What are you talking about,” Liliana said in clipped syllables. Venser shrugged and hurriedly scooped up the rest of his things. He shrugged again as he stood up, looking down at her from his greater height. He enjoyed watching her have to crane her neck to maintain eye contact, which she did, defiantly.

“Just business,” he said easily.

“You don’t have business,” she retorted.

“You just assumed that.” Venser grinned. Liliana was silent a moment as she stared up at him. A droplet of sweat inspired by the Theros sun coursed down her left temple. Venser felt his finger twitch and put his hand in his pocket.

Suddenly Liliana dropped her gaze and licked her lips. “This reeks of dragon.” Venser thought he heard her mutter. The necromancer viciously stomped some unlucky barley stalks, her brow furrowed.

“So what do you have to do here?” she finally said.

“I’m not entirely sure. I just had a dream.”

“Why not finish Ravnica with me first, then come back here? I could help you.”


“So it’s urgent.”

“I don’t know.”

“Bolas’s sweltering balls!” Liliana flung up her hands in exasperation. “Fine. Which way are we headed on this backwater plane?”

Venser winced. “We?”

“Are you saying you don’t want me to come?”

“Well I--”

“Which way?” Liliana said decisively, striding forward and looking around pointedly in all directions. Venser felt his control of the situation sliding through his fingers towards the worst possible scenario.

“Lil, I really don’t think you w--”

“You really don’t want me to come, do you?” Liliana gave him a salacious wink. “My, my, how selfish of you, Venser. I never would’ve figured you for the type of man who puts his own needs before his lady’s.” She was putting her arm through his arm. Venser gritted his teeth and shook her off. Liliana growled and kicked him in the back of his knee, bringing him down to her height. Venser yelped, caught off guard, as his left leg buckled and his right knee hit the ground, hard.

Liliana slung an arm around his shoulders and leaned over to whisper in his ear, pressing her breasts into his chin as she did so.

“You’re taking me with you. I decide when we part ways. Besides, Vense, what would I do back on Ravni all alone? Without you to barge into my room?” her breath was hotter than the sun on his neck. “I mean, a girl gets lonely. I’d have to go crawling back to that awful Izzet m--”

Venser whirled. “Shut. Up.” He grabbed Liliana roughly, digging his fingers into her arms as he stood up, lifting her off the ground. She cursed and tried to bite him, but Venser tightened his grip and she squealed in pain. The world was bending all around the artificer. This is not supposed to happen, he thought, but he didn’t care. All he could think of was Liliana. He wanted to shake her until her teeth chattered, until she begged him to stop… But instead, he pulled her close as the Theros landscape became striated with lines of blue. I think she just spat on me mused Venser as the world began to fracture around them. Venser wrapped his arms tighter around Liliana, and for a moment he thought he felt her lips on his neck. Then everything broke into blinding whiteness and they were gone.


...Can't wait for Book II?
Get your fix with bonus content in Retribution Interlude I: She's the Darkness

Retribution in Ravnica
an original Magic: The Gathering fan fiction


  1. Glad to see you're writing again. My favorite phrase was, "The giant emerald eyes cast Venser’s reflection back at him. He was an elongated, pale, incidental blemish on the dragon’s ebony irises."

    I'm a fan of Nicol Bolas' machinations.

  2. Super stoked you liked that line. :) Yeah, what's not to love about Bolas... I mean, all his evil qualities only make him that much more endearing. Thanks for checking out the chapter!