|07-20-2011, 02:00 AM||#16|
Join Date: Jun 2011
When I became aware of my surroundings again, I found myself in a dank place that smelled of blood and rotten meat.
It was too dark to see anything. Beside me, I felt Venser’s arm remove itself from my waist, and then a second later a blue wisp of light sprang to life a few feet in front of our faces. It cast flickering shadows on the walls around us, which I realized with a start were made not out of any stone or metal, but of flesh – hideous pink flesh that quivered like jelly as I watched. I clasped my hand over my mouth in an effort to hold back my gag. Vincenius hadn’t warned me about this part.
Venser seemed to notice my discomfort. “Awful, isn’t it?” he whispered. When I turned to look at him, I could see that his own face was wrinkled up in an expression of disgust, though at his side Koth was as impassive as ever. “The first time I came down here, I just wanted to turn right back around and get the hells out. It gets worse, even, which is just great.”
“Much worse,” Koth added quietly.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to believe the both of them, but I knew that I would be a fool not to. I just couldn’t imagine what in all the hells I would need to prepare myself for that could be worse than the Phyrexians I had already seen, or the flesh walls pulsing around me.
What a lovely first mission that Jace had sent me on.
Cautiously, the three of us began to inch along one of the walls and into the encompassing darkness. Venser’s wisp only lit up perhaps a three foot radius all around, and so we had to stick close as we crept along into spirits knew where, following his lead. Though he said nothing, he seemed to recognize the surroundings and have an idea of where we were, as well as where we were headed. I had no choice but to trust him.
“Do you think Elspeth will be alright?” I whispered after awhile. I had been wondering why we hadn’t just teleported straight to her, though I was sure Venser had some good reason for it. Koth wasn’t protesting, after all, and that was the best sign I could look for.
There was a pause, and in the brief silence I could hear our footsteps echoing back at us from high above. So we’re in a cavern, then. “I really don’t know,” he murmured. His voice was soft, and not just from his efforts to keep quiet, as we were all doing. “I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the Whispering One in person, thankfully, though I’ve…heard stories. Plenty of them. And none of them end well.”
My heart began to pound in my chest then. I could feel the nauseating wave of anxiety rush up into me all of a sudden, and it took nearly every ounce of resolve that I had simply to quell it. Fortunately, the darkness was effective at concealing my expression from my companions – As much as I felt they wouldn’t judge me for being nervous in a situation like this, I didn’t want them to get any ideas that I was a coward. I wasn’t. I was just…
…in a little over my head.
Suddenly, there was a grating screech from behind, and Koth and Venser whirled in unison as quick as lightning. My heart pounded harder.
“Negator mage!” Koth shouted, and his vents leapt to life like some great bonfire. Standing so close to him, I could feel the heat coming off from them in waves.
Venser darted in front of me. With him in the way, I couldn’t get a good look at whatever was coming for us, despite Koth’s additional illumination. “It’s got the Whispering One’s minions,” he hissed through gritted teeth. “Three of them.”
“We do not have time for this!” Koth roared. I could see his vents flare even brighter when he yelled.
When I finally pushed my way forward to look over Venser’s shoulder, I let out a gasp. There was a blade-armed humanoid, similar to the one that Vincenius had taken out before but smaller, and behind him – her? It? – were three twisted figures. Long, thin necks topped with tiny heads, huge eyes, and birdlike beaks poked out from armor shaped like skulls and painted in blood, and their equally spindly limbs seemed to writhe about for no reason. All of them were charging toward us now, all the while letting out horrible shrieks that sounded like Koth’s metal hair scraping the tent, but magnified a thousandfold.
“Got any bright ideas?” Venser called over the clamor as he spread his arms. For a moment, I could swear that I saw his eyes flash blue.
“Just one,” Koth returned. He had spread his own arms as well, and now his vents were flaring brighter than I had seen them yet, and hotter. It was as if his blood had turned to lava and was now leaking out through his skin. “Take her and run. I will be right behind you.”
“What are you doing?” I cried, but I didn’t have time to hear Koth’s answer, if he had even responded. Venser’s hand had grabbed mine and he had set off across the cavern at a dead sprint, dragging me along behind him. For a moment I stumbled, but then the artificer’s hand was on my elbow, pulling me up, and we were off again. I didn’t know why we were running. I wanted to know, wanted to turn and look back, to see what Koth was doing---
And then a terrible rumbling sounded, like the moving of a mountain, and the ceiling high above our heads began to cave in.
The ground beneath us shook violently as metal came crashing to earth. More than once it threatened to either throw Venser and I or send us tumbling – but miraculously, we both managed to keep our balance, even as thick and choking dust began to swirl about us from behind. I felt hundreds of little pinpricks from the sharp bits of debris that struck my back as we fled.
“Koth!” Venser screamed suddenly, and then he was turning, facing the avalanche, and reaching out his other arm even as he continued running forward.
A metal-streaked hand reached out in turn to seize it, and then the crumbling world around us began to spin away.
A second later, we were collapsing onto the floor in a heap before another flesh wall.
It took a few long moments for us to catch our breath, and to sit up and regain our bearings. Venser was the first to rise. He leaned against the wall behind him, still panting, and brought to life another blue wisp so that we could see where we were. Nothing much different from before, save that the ceiling was directly above our heads…and not in pieces all around us.
“Well, that’s one way to get rid of them,” I muttered as I struggled to my feet. Venser held out a hand to help me up, and I took it.
Koth merely shrugged as he, too, rose. I marveled at the fact that he didn’t have a single scratch on him – or at least, not any that I could see. “It worked, did it not?”
“We’re here,” Venser interrupted then, quietly. As I had been inspecting Koth, the artificer had turned to examine the flesh wall behind him, and even in the dim blue light I could see where it was (ugh) quavering beneath his touch. The outline of a vaguely oval-shaped door had formed, and there was a faint light poking through the unbroken seam – red, like the ever-present glow back in the refugee camp.
There was no noise from the other side of the door. I had been expecting screaming, or Phyrexian shrieking, or the whirring of the terrible machines that Vincenius had said they used on their captives to change them…But no. Nothing. Nothing, save an utter, eerie, almost palpable silence.
Venser and I shared an uneasy look, and even Koth shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“Nowhere to go but ahead,” Venser whispered, and his palm on the door suddenly flashed a bright blue. There was a wet sound, a disgusting sound, and then the flesh wall retracted into the ceiling, leaving the doorway open before us.
When I saw what lay beyond it, I fell to my knees in horror. Venser drew in a sharp breath as he staggered backward, and Koth gave an outraged cry.
The room, illuminated entirely by that red light, was surrounded on all sides by flesh walls and bare save for a single long table in the center – an operating table, made of gleaming silver metal. On that table lay a figure…Human. Female. Long, thick black hair, splayed all about her to drape over the sides like a mourner’s veil. It was beautiful hair. I remembered as a child that I had several times asked my mother if I could trade my sister for her hair, because it was so dark and shiny and smooth and so different from mine, from my bird’s nest that was always tangled and strewn with leaves and dirt, and that never fell the way I wanted it to no matter how hard I tried. My mother had always responded by telling me that I would come to love my own hair in time, that it made me look like my father, that it was unique and perfect just the way it was. It had taken me years to believe her.
Now as I stared at this woman with my sister’s hair, I saw that every inch of her skin was flayed open and pinned to the sheet beneath her.
I could see her muscle. In some places, I could see her bone. I could see bits of her organs, too – her heart, wet and still beating; her lungs, still rising and falling in a steady rhythm.
I bent close over my knees and retched.
“Ahhh,” came a voice – no, two voices, speaking as one. Part of it was the soft breath of a woman’s whisper, of seduction, and the other part of it was a deep and monstrous growl that I could only imagine emanating from the mouth of a hell itself. It chilled me to my core, and even in my state of shock and revulsion, I couldn’t help but lift my head to face it.
“The little cockroach has returned,” it continued, “and this time he brings guests!” There was a shadow of movement from the other side of the room, but my eyes were too blurred with tears to see clearly what it was. All I knew was that it was large. And that I was afraid. “So…will either of you have any more reason than he?”
“This is an ABOMINATION!” Koth roared in response. “I will CRUSH you where you stand, Sheoldred!”
“Koth, no---!” Venser cried, but too late. From behind me, the room was suddenly lit with the blaze of the vulshok’s vents, and a wave of heat washed over me. It burned away all the tears in my eyes, and after a moment of frenetic blinking, I realized that I could see.
Immediately, though, I wished that I couldn’t.
Standing above Elspeth, holding a wickedly sharp scalpel to her closed eye, was the head and torso of a woman, clad in silver armor over bare muscle. She had a great, black horned helmet obscuring everything from her eyes on up, and the fingernails that I could only call claws were dripping with some dark substance – blood, it must have been. Or oil. Or both. The way she was smiling at me – me! – flashing her hideously serrated teeth, sent my heart dropping all the way to my toes.
Then I saw what her torso was attached to, and it was all I could do not to scream.
A gaping, equally toothy maw that was nearly the length of the operating table balanced on four legs covered from tip to joint in blades. From the look of them, I guessed that unbent they would stretch higher than Koth, Venser, and I all standing on one another’s shoulders. The woman seemed to meld into it all seamlessly…like she belonged there, like she had been born that way. Perhaps she had been.
“Leash the vulshok,” she snarled, “before I slay this one.”
“Koth,” Venser said again. His voice was hushed, anxious. “Please.”
Reluctantly, Koth lowered his upraised arms and allowed the furious glow emanating from him to die down to embers. He refused to take his eyes from Sheoldred, though, and as he stood I could see him begin to shake. Whether it was with fury or with effort, I didn’t know.
“Now,” the monstrosity whispered, and with a feeling of the utmost dread I just knew that she was speaking to me. “You. You are neither a servant of the Father of Machines, nor one of those natives who have derided our Great Work.” She spoke the word ‘natives’ as if it were a vulgarity. “So tell me, child – Where are you from? Do not be afraid to speak the truth. This need not end in violence.”
Venser whirled to look at me, and I could see the wild desperation in his eyes. He was afraid, too. For some sick reason, that comforted me – perhaps because it made me feel just a little less alone. At least, that was what I hoped.
“I…” I managed to choke out. My voice was like rocks scraping together, rough and hoarse. “I am not from here. My home knows of no such horrors as…as this.” I tried to avoid looking at Elspeth as I spoke, but it was useless. Her violated body drew my eyes like a flame draws moths, and when I did look at her I felt a sudden swell of something inside of me that took a moment to recognize. Disbelief. Anger. Rage. Hate. Black hate, black as night, black as the void, so black that I felt like I was drowning in darkness---
Please don’t, please, please don’t touch her, don’t, no, don’t hurt her, anything but that, please, please…
“Ah, I see. So you are one of the unenlightened, then.” Sheoldred let her scalpel fall lazily to the floor with a clatter, and she took a few steps closer to me. Her blades clacked against the hot metal as she moved. I felt sick.
What are you doing? No…no! Stop it! Please! Let her go, she didn’t do anything to you, let her go!
“You are the same as those who once dwelt in our New Phyrexia. The very same…But child, you see, this is progress - This is the path of ascension!” Sheoldred’s voice rose in an almost fanatic exultation, but even louder than that I could hear my own blood pounding in my ears – incessantly. Unmercifully.
Don’t hurt her! Don’t hurt her, stop it, no…no, NO! STOP IT!
“We are continuing the Great Work of our beloved Father of Machines!”
Long, thick black hair, splayed all about her…
“All Will Be One!”
…and beneath it, blood, soaking into every strand.
She’s dead…she’s dead, she’s dead, you killed her, SHE’S DEAD!
“AMITA!” I screamed, and before I knew what was happening I was unleashing a torrent of magic, like water from a burst dam.
There was a shriek as Sheoldred was thrown, and instantly, even as I felt myself being pulled to my feet by a force I couldn’t see, both Koth and Venser sprang into action. Koth lurched forward, shouting like a man half-crazed in a language I didn’t understand. His entire body glowed as if it itself were aflame, and he threw himself atop the Phyrexian’s struggling body to pummel her with a flurry of blows. Venser shot a brief glance back at me, but before I could catch his expression he was spreading his arms wide and bowing his head. Blue light danced across his hands to his fingertips, and then a strange creature was simply there in front of him, pulled from the aether, long and lean and blade-beaked and with a tail that coiled about its head like a spiked whip.
“No better way to kill bizarre genetic mutants than with bizarre genetic mutants,” he muttered under his breath, in a strained almost-laugh. With a flick of his wrist, the creature launched itself into the air and toward Sheoldred. “Take this, freak!”
Sheoldred shrieked even louder as the blow connected, and I could see her torso-mouth snapping at Koth as he continued to wrestle her, aiming his punches at her exposed throat whenever he could. I took the moment to summon a creature of my own – the little tangle of vines that I knew so well, that had never failed me. I was still reeling, and even as I felt my adrenaline begin to take hold, it was all I had the concentration to call upon.
But then Sheoldred let out a cry, and in one powerful swipe she had shoved Koth off of her and sent him rolling hard into the wall. “Shortsighted fools!” In an instant she was on her feet again. Though her eyes were hidden, I could feel their gaze boring into me like molten lead. She waved her hand in my direction, and before I could react there was a cloud of thick smoke covering my creature, choking it, turning it back into the aether from which it had formed. A jolt of fear ran down my spine. “All the worlds could know peace if the Great Work was completed, but no – You have to fight it! You have to stand in our way, time and again! YOU are the ones who fight what we bring, the beauty and the completion that we so kindly offer you! YOU are the ones who are dooming your own people by continuing to wage your pointless ‘rebellions,’ which do nothing but slaughter the suns that would burn brightest within our ranks!” Her entire body was wreathed in an aura of hissing black mist now, and suddenly the room felt very cold. Venser took a step backward, bumping into me by accident, and when his arm brushed mine I could feel it trembling.
But Koth was on his feet again too. His gaze was livid as it held the Phyrexian unwaveringly, and I knew right then that she was in for it. “Taint and corruption,” he spat. Blood was dripping from the corners of his mouth, and he reached up with his palm to wipe it away. “Taint and corruption, everywhere, that is all you bring. I will tolerate your delusions no longer!”
The metal floor beneath Sheoldred suddenly stabbed up and into her, drawing a gasp as it pierced the jaw of the torso-mouth. Her aura began to fade as she lost her concentration, and almost reflexively, I reacted by calling upon the strongest creature that I knew. Venser, beside me, was yelling at his blade-beak that had so neatly dodged Sheoldred’s swipe to go back and aim for her throat. It did, and it connected, just as the looming treefolk that I had summoned in my first battle alongside Vincenius burst forth from the ground to land a perfect uppercut right into her gut.
Even in her pain, though, Sheoldred was not about to give up. She let out a wordless shriek that sprayed bloody black spittle into the air, and thrust her hands toward Venser, who immediately collapsed to his knees and screamed. I ran to him. He was groaning now, clutching his head in both hands, even as Sheoldred skittered past Koth and advanced on him with claws extended. I felt my heart drum hard against my ribcage. It reminded me suddenly of Elspeth, and her exposed organs…
“Protect us!” I cried.
And in an instant, my tree was on her, holding her back. She growled and snarled and struggled against the grip that its thick branches had twined around her, but to no avail. She had been weakened too much by our attacks to free herself quickly.
It would buy us time, but only a moment.
A moment, however, was all we would need.
When I turned to Koth, I could see him crouched low to the ground, chanting something over and over under his breath in that same, foreign language. His eyes were beginning to glow red, and to pulse in time with his vents. When I turned to Venser, he was recovering from his momentary incapacitation, shaking his head and closing his eyes in an effort to concentrate.
My weakness hit me in a rush then. I nearly let out a gasp at the sensation of it, at the way my legs wobbled and threatened to buckle beneath me. I had expended so much mana without barely even a pause, and now it was all catching up to me at once. But yet…
I could feel that I still had enough left in me for one more spell. One more…just one. If it didn’t work, then I had only my tree for protection until it was defeated, and then I would be completely useless for the rest of the battle. I would be at the mercy of my companions’ strength, and Sheoldred’s, and my own athletic skills – which didn’t amount to much, in a place like this with no trees to climb.
But if it did work…
I heard Venser’s wordless shout and the screech of his creature as it came diving down on Sheoldred’s head, heard her own screech in response as she clawed and bit at it even as my tree still held her fast.
Then I saw the aura of black mist growing around her once more, and I knew that it was now or never.
I let loose with everything I had left. There was an explosion of purple light.
My head spun as the mana left me, and I could do nothing to stop myself from falling to my knees for a second time. I felt limp, almost boneless. I could hear a loud ringing in my ears, too, for whatever reason, but it was not loud enough to block out what I heard next – a roaring cry that lifted my spirits and sent them aloft. I looked up, just in time.
Koth stood, towering over Sheoldred as she lay toppled on the floor beside my tree. His arms were raised to the ceiling, and a heady mixture of bloodlust and triumph twisted his weathered face.
My tree suddenly reached out both arms to grab Venser and I and pull us beneath it, beneath the operating table and Elspeth, and then boulder-sized chunks of metal came raining down from the ceiling in a tremendous cacophony.
Sheoldred let out an unearthly wail each time one of them hit their intended mark. Like before, when Venser and I had been running, I felt little razorlike shards pelt me from all directions, though my tree blocked the worst of it. I covered my ears with my hands, and beside me Venser did the same. The amount of noise in the room was almost too much to bear.
After a minute that seemed more like an hour, the Phyrexian finally fell silent.
Koth let his hands drop to his sides. The second he did, the deluge stopped, and my tree allowed its battered form to fade away back into the aether. Venser and Elspeth and I had been nearly completely untouched by the attack – and for that, I said a silent prayer of thanks to the spirits. The last thing we would have needed was for Koth to defeat the Phyrexian at last, but then accidentally kill us all in the process.
Jace was right. Good-intentioned as he may be, the vulshok was indeed a rather careless individual.
As I forced myself to my feet and stumbled into a corner of the operating table, I noticed the new hole in the ceiling, and the clawed hand that poked out from the towering pile of rubble below. It just…lay there, unmoving.
“Ranewen, are you alright?”
The sound of my own name startled me. It was Venser’s voice, right at my side. He sounded worried. “Did you get hit in the head? You look like you’re about to topple over.”
“ ‘M fine,” I muttered, ignoring the artificer and turning my attention instead to the mutilated woman on the table before me. Elspeth. Elspeth the planeswalker. Just like me. And black hair, just like my sister. Like Amita. My vision swam. “We have to…heal her. Someone help me, hold her skin back in place…”
I was vaguely aware of Koth coming up close and looking over my shoulder, then turning his head away. When I caught a glance, I saw that his face was pale. “I know nothing of this,” he said quietly. There was something almost like a stammer in his voice, which I hadn’t expected from him. “Venser, you are the one whom Vincenius is training. You help.”
Venser was pale too, but he didn’t shy away from the table. “I…alright.” I heard him swallow hard, and then he reached out to place a tentative hand on a flap of skin that hung loose from her shoulder. His arm jerked. Still though, he kept his hand where it was. “Are you sure you can do this, Ranewen?” he asked after a moment. His voice was strained, but soft. It sounded like an echo inside my skull. “You don’t look well at all.”
“Neither do you,” I retorted, meaning to imply that he looked pale but instead worrying whether it had come out sounding more like an insult…but then, it didn’t matter. Elspeth was what mattered. Elspeth. She was all that mattered. I was the only one here that could save her.
I wished that I had thought beyond the battle when I had cast that spell. I wished that I had left myself with more mana, to make what I was about to do easier. But at the time, I hadn’t anticipated myself surviving – and if I hadn’t cast the spell to stop Sheoldred from casting her own, perhaps I wouldn’t have. So I supposed I couldn’t blame myself…not really.
I have to do what I have to do, I thought. No matter what the cost.
After ten minutes of us working together, and as quickly as we could, Venser’s careful hand and my healing magic had sewn Elspeth’s skin back into place all over her body. She needed further help, though – much more than what I could give her. She needed Vincenius. And soon. That was the sole thought that my mind was able to grasp at that point, since everything else just faded away in a blur as darkness crept up into the edges of my vision and I felt myself sliding, falling limply into the operating table.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Sheoldred’s hand no longer poked out from the pile of metal. But a second later, even the remembrance of the thought vanished, and I was left wondering desperately how Elspeth was going to get back to Vincenius in time. I felt so dizzy…
Suddenly, there was a loud bang from across the room. It sounded miles away to me.
“Looks like we’ve got company,” I heard Venser say. Where was he? He sounded so distant too. I couldn’t see anymore. Everything was so blurry that I couldn’t make anything out.
I heard Phyrexian screeches, and then a different type of screech as metal scraped against metal. There was a grunt.
“I have the passage blocked,” Koth called out. “Go, now! It will not hold for long!”
I felt something being lifted from the table as I lay slumped halfway across it, and then there was an odd pop. I knew that I had heard that sound before…but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember where.
A few seconds later there was another pop. It was followed by more screeching and then rattling, and I felt someone wrap an arm around my torso to hold me tight. Whoever it was, they were warm. I was so cold that I was shivering, and the heat felt wonderful.
“Koth!” Venser’s voice came again, and this time it sounded as if I were hearing it from underwater. I couldn’t hold myself up any longer. I sagged against whoever was holding me, and felt my eyes slide shut.
Then there was a sensation like being pulled apart in two different directions, and it was strangely familiar. The colors behind my closed eyelids bled together until I didn’t know what I was looking at anymore, and everything was getting so dark…and then, suddenly, there was just nothing at all.
|07-25-2011, 11:53 PM||#17|
Join Date: Jun 2011
I awoke to the sound of hushed voices.
For a moment I thought they might be talking about me, but no – As my eyes slid slowly open and found the two mer, I saw that they were standing hunched over something to my left. A bed. Like the one I just now realized I was lying in. I was a little dizzy, but I could still make out the sheets covering me from foot to chin, and the small metal table that stood to one side, with a myriad of glass jars and vials and spirits knew what else. I must be in Vincenius’s clinic.
And indeed I was. There were a few more beds to either side of me, or at least to the right – I couldn’t see anything to the left, what with those mer in the way – and individuals of varying races scurried back and forth down the aisle in front of me, each one clad in a white smock overtop whatever else they were wearing. I recognized nearly everything. Vincenius had taken me on a brief tour before our practice battle, and I remembered this place to be the recovery room. There was a carved-metal balcony overlooking the entirety of it, and when I slowly shifted my gaze to look up, groaning at the pain that flared through my neck, I gave a start. Vincenius himself was perched on the ledge, legs dangling over the side as he perused some sort of chart in his hands. When he looked up, his eyes went straight to me. He smiled.
Casually, he let himself slip off and into the air. But instead of falling, and before I could so much as gasp, a pair of immense, finlike wings unfolded from his back, and with one graceful stroke they propelled him down to the floor at the foot of my bed. When he stood up straight, they folded themselves back in and just vanished. I was left staring at him in utter disbelief.
“Is there anything you can’t convince your body to do?” I asked. My voice was far too weak for my own liking.
Vincenius chuckled at that. “Nope,” he said simply, coming closer to sit on the edge of my bed. His hand reached out to brush my forehead, briefly, and then after a moment he nodded to himself and pulled it away. I assumed that he had been feeling for my temperature. “Six days, 11 hours, and 21 minutes. Small price to pay for what you did, wouldn’t you say?”
I reeled. “It’s been that long?”
Vincenius nodded. “Indeed. I was intending to postpone purging the glistening oil from you until after you had returned from the mission to Ish Sah, but in retrospect…that was probably not the best idea. I had to keep you under for several days after you had already recovered from your shock and exhaustion and whatnot.”
“Glistening oil?” I remembered stepping in it, getting it on my arm several times during the trek to Ish Sah, and especially during our time beneath the surface. Strangely, though, I didn’t remember it burning like before. “What, so it was…inside me?”
Again Vincenius nodded. He reached underneath my bed to pull out a brown glass jar, and though I couldn’t see its contents clearly, I could see that whatever was inside was moving. “It’s poison, you remember. It slowly corrupts whatever it touches. After your first exposure, it stops burning because your body begins to take it in, and you are essentially immune to its effects. But it changes you.” He unscrewed the lid of the jar, paused, and then screwed it back on again. “That’s why I had to get it all out. I did the same with Jace, while you were gone, though it was far quicker for him. I’m just glad I could get to you in time.”
“Jace,” I whispered. I had almost completely forgotten about him, what with everything else that I had to worry about. “How is he?”
Vincenius shrugged, leaning over to set the jar on the table before looking back to me. “Fine enough. He took Koth’s place in the patrols, and helped ward off several Phyrexian attacks. Could use some training, for certain, but…he’s a natural fighter. My soldiers breathed easier whenever he was around, and not off taking care of business back in Ravnica, or here checking up on you.”
A blush spread across my cheeks, too quickly for me to hide. Vincenius must have noticed. “He didn’t need to do that.” I remembered how we had parted ways, how I had worried whether or not he would be angry with me when I returned. Now all that worry died away, and was swiftly replaced by a growing warmth in my chest – which, I had to admit, could have just as easily been some odd result of my recovering state, but I chose to dismiss that notion.
Vincenius let out a snort. “That’s what I told him too. But he’s stubborn. He kept on coming, every day that he was free, even when it started to affect his sleep. I finally told him that I would be waking you today, and that I had everything under control and he should go rest for once. Looks like he finally listened.”
The thought of Jace, coming to visit me day after day just to ensure that I was alright, made my heart beat faster – But before I could allow myself to dwell in girlish delusions overlong, I gave myself a good hard mental shake. There were other things to be worrying about. Other people. “What about Elspeth?” I asked after a moment. For whatever reason – frailty, perhaps, or fear – the words seemed to stick in my throat, like they were hesitant themselves to come out.
Vincenius smiled then, a sad smile, and I wasn’t sure whether that was a good sign or a bad one. “Ah, Ranewen.” His voice was quiet, and as he spoke he reached out a hand to place overtop mine. “You didn’t act alone, of course, but your bravery has done us all a great service. You saved her life.” I felt the most overwhelming sense of relief wash over me, but I barely had time to process it before he continued. “With what the Phyrexians did to her, she would not have survived Venser’s teleport. Useful as it may be, it is taxing on those who are already weakened. Thus, had you not been there, to heal her as much as you were able to…she would have died, for certain. And so I thank you.”
The mer gestured with his other hand, and when I looked I saw that the two attendants to the left were gone – and that laying atop the bed they had been bent over, was a woman, her long black hair splayed out across her pillow and her bandaged body rising and falling in time with her breathing. There was just the faintest flush of color in her face, and she stirred a little every time there was a loud noise. She was alive.
“Elspeth,” I breathed. I felt my eyes grow suddenly wet.
Vincenius smiled again, this time a little happier. “I plan on waking her tomorrow, though she will still need a few more days before she can fight with the best of them again. That’s the good thing about my treatment – Messy at times, but it does get the job done. Speaking of which…” He reached back over me to pluck the brown jar from the bedside table, and unscrewed the lid again. This time, he plucked out a wriggling, slimy, utterly horrifying leech, nearly as long as my whole hand and apparently just as mobile. I squeaked.
“What in the nine hells are you doing with that?” I had backed my entire body up against the bed’s headboard, and with the sheet kicked off I could now see that I was clad in a clean white nightgown. That didn’t really matter at the moment, though. There were leeches. Right there. In front of me. Right. There.
Vincenius cocked an eyebrow. I felt a dawning horror as he suddenly got it and a wicked smile began to creep across his face, ever so slowly, ever so painfully. “What, you’re not fond of these little fellows?” He held one up for my inspection, far too close for comfort. I squeaked again and dove under the sheet. “But they’re what I used to drain the oil from you! How can you hate them when they saved you from being turned into a Phyrexian? I even picked out some of my favorites for you!”
I wanted to cry. I wanted to vomit. Forgetting where I was and why I needed to keep my voice down, I threw the sheet off of me and shrieked. “You let those things suck my blood?!”
“Mostly the oil,” Vincenius corrected with a chuckle. Finally, he placed the leech back in its jar and screwed the lid on tight, to seal it and all of its villainous little brethren away. “I suppose I’ll wait to do Elspeth’s treatment until you’re safely away from here, since you’re so squeamish. And here I had expected better of you…” As he stood, tucked the jar back beneath the bed, and stepped out into the aisle, he threw me a teasing look. Maddening. “Now I’ll be right back – I’m just going to go get your things, since you’re free to leave whenever you wish.” He headed out through a nearby door, and then returned a few moments later with two bundles in his arms. He dumped both of them in my lap, since I was now sitting upright and eyeing him warily. I must have looked well enough to him.
When I saw what he had given me, though, I couldn’t help but smile. “Wait, this is for me?”
One of the bundles was my own clothes and boots, complete with my hunting knife, all freshly washed and stain-free. But the other…the other was an outfit of glimmering gold, an ornate bra and skirt, with delicate pauldrons and thigh guards that looked as if they would fit like a glove. There were even boots, too – long, knee-length ones, completely unworn and so very beautiful. I could hardly believe my eyes. I had seen many of the humans around the refugee camp wearing similar outfits, but to be holding one in my own hands…
“Of course,” Vincenius said. When I looked up at him, I noticed that his smile was genuine this time. “I had a nurse fit you for it while you were sleeping. This plane has five suns and a geothermal furnace – You didn’t think I was going to let you walk around in that forever, did you?” He gestured toward my hunter’s outfit and grinned. “You may have been fine with it on Zendikar or even Ravnica, but the heat out here would have gotten to you eventually!”
I grinned too, and hefted the weight of the outfit as I took it in my arms. It was surprisingly light. “So what’s the catch?”
“No catch. Just get out there and enjoy being alive, while we still have a moment of peace.”
To the mer’s surprise – and, to some degree, my own – I responded by standing and enfolding him in a warm hug, beaming. My legs didn’t shake one bit.
“That,” I said, “I can do.”
One wardrobe change and two hours later, I was out wandering the streets of the refugee camp.
I was trying my best not to look too lost, but I was also pretty sure that my efforts were in vain. I just passed that square, didn’t I? Oh, damn it…
Finding Venser’s workshop was proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated. Vincenius had told me that the artificer had also been inquiring about my health while I was unconscious, and that since Koth was on patrol and Jace was (finally) sleeping, I should go drop by, tell him I’m doing alright. I had agreed. Venser had helped out Koth and I greatly on our mission, and he hadn’t been unkind in the least. Besides, if he was to be one of our new companions, well…I figured that it would be a good idea to learn more about him. Vincenius had given me some vague directions, and then off I went.
I’m pretty sure the place is right around this corner…
When I rounded the precarious stack of apartments, I was surprised to find myself standing right across the street from our tent. The carved and polished building I had noticed on the first day we had come here was just a few steps away, and at once I realized that it must be Venser’s workshop. Of course. He’s an artificer, isn’t he? Why wouldn’t he take the time to make his place look nice? For a moment I was sorely tempted to make a brief stop at the tent, but…no. I pushed the thought out of my head. I can see Jace later. Right now, he needs to rest. For another moment I marveled at the irony of the structures’ proximity, and then I began to head across the adjacent street and over to Venser’s huge front doors.
They were cracked open when I reached them. From inside, there was a tremendous racket of buzzing and whirring, and intermittently the grinding screech of metal on metal. Cautiously, I peered inside.
The whole place was just one large room, covered in shelves and tables and tools and bottles and rags and huge, hulking pieces of machinery that gleamed, having been polished until they looked brand new. Venser himself was at the back. He was standing on his tiptoes in front of one of those machines, facing away from the entrance and me. The machine he was working on was spiderlike, with many legs poking out from the glass tank that served as its body, and spirits was it tall! Inside the tank hung what looked like just a plain old sphere, of dull metal – But from the way it floated in midair, unaided by anything I could see, I assumed that there was more to it than met the eye. From the way sparks were flying from the metal around Venser’s hand – and from the noises – I also assumed that he must be grinding the metal smooth. Either that, or doing something too technical for me to already know about. I took a tiny step forward and pulled the door shut behind me.
“What’s that you’re working on?” My voice was just barely audible over everything, but still he turned. The second he did, all the noise stopped.
“Windgrace’s whiskers!” He set down the tool in his hand and leaned back against the machine, pushing the protective goggles he wore up onto his forehead. He smiled. “The sleeping beauty wakes. I was wondering when Doc would be finished with you!”
The artificer’s tone was so jovial that I couldn’t help but smile back. Coming closer, I hopped up to sit on an empty table across from him. “Just this morning.” As I moved, my gold outfit clinked together softly. “I thought I’d stop by, since I have a bit of time on my hands.”
Venser chuckled. One of his hands wiped away the sweat gathering on his brow, leaving behind a little smudge of grease. He noticed and wiped at that too. “Well, I’m happy to have you. I haven’t had company in, uh…well, ever, to be honest.” Washed clean of the blood and oil and grime that had completely covered him in Ish Sah, I could now take a good look – He was a little taller than Jace, and a little more built. His lean face appeared as if it hadn’t been shaved in a couple of days, but he wore the look well, and the way his eyes – a deep, rich brown – smiled down at me more than made up for any dishevelment his profession caused. He tried to push his mess of brown hair flat to his scalp, but it stubbornly refused and continued to stick out instead. He sighed. “Sorry that last jump of mine shocked your system so much, by the way. There really wasn’t anything I could do to prevent it, but…I still feel bad.”
I shook my head insistently. “No, no! Don’t apologize! I should be the one thanking you – You saved my life back there!” I smiled again, awkwardly. Typical. “So, um…thank you, Venser!”
He cocked an eyebrow in return, and the machine behind him bowed – or at least, as much as the enormous spiderlike contraption could manage. “You’re very welcome. And thank you for saving Elspeth. She wouldn’t have survived the jump without your help.” He had a mischievous gleam in his eyes now, and I couldn’t stop myself from grinning in amazement.
“How did you make it do that?”
He turned to pat the machine, affectionately. “It’s a Phyrexian machine – a psychosis crawler. I scavenged it from one of the battles awhile back. It’s supposed to be full of brains, but since that’s a little too…Phyrexian for me, I’ve retrofitted it with a device that allows me to control it with my mind instead.” As if to prove his point, the crawler clicked and whirred and waved one of its slender legs at me. Venser grinned. I giggled.
Simple terms, I found myself noting. He talks like a teacher. “That’s fascinating!” I slid off of the table and onto the floor, then came to stand next to Venser so I could get a better look at the crawler.
The artificer gave it another pat before turning to face me. “Sometimes it interprets other people’s thoughts besides mine, or thoughts that aren’t meant to be orders, but I’m sure I’ll figure out how to fix it soon enough. I don’t really have any other projects on my to-do list.”
Suddenly, I felt a childlike curiosity overcome me, and I turned to Venser. My hands were clasped together in front of my imploring grin. “Oh, could I try? Pretty please?”
Venser seemed to be genuinely taken aback by my request – I could see it on his face, in the way his eyes went wide and his jaw momentarily slack. “Wait, you’re…” He paused. “You’re serious? You’re really that interested?”
I nodded eagerly. “Yes, of course! I’ve never seen anything like it!”
All he could do was shake his head – in disbelief, I guessed. After a moment though, a slow smile began to spread across his face, and he regarded me with an expression that made it seem as if he were really seeing me for the first time. “Huh. Well, it’s nice to know someone appreciates my work – Koth and Elspeth want me to smash everything I see, and everyone else here just seems scared. It’s a nice change of pace.” His smile grew warm. “Luckily Doc sees the value in understanding your enemy, otherwise this little place of mine would be shut down, and I’d have to walk to Urborg any time I wanted to get work done.”
I put aside my interest in the crawler, for the moment. “Is that where you’re from?”
Venser nodded. “Yep. A lovely little corner of Dominaria where there’s nothing but swamp, swamp, and, ah…more swamp as far as the eye can see. And that’s just my neck of the woods” He leaned his head back against the crawler again and sighed. “Even though Koth dragged me here against my will, I’ve grown fond of the place. I’d like to stay here – Not just because I’m not up to my knees in muck constantly, but because I want to protect it. I’ve seen enough Phyrexian corruption back home. I don’t want to see it here too.” He snorted. “Though I have to admit, it’s a little late for that wish.” There was a short moment of silence, and then he turned just his head to me, a questioning smile on his handsome face. “If I may ask, m’lady – What about you? Where are you from?”
Though it was endearing – and a little flattering – I had to shake my head and laugh. “Oh no. I’m no lady, Venser. I’m way too rough and tumble for that. You haven’t seen me hunting the baloths back on Zendikar.”
The artificer laughed too, a sound that was just as infectious as I had first found his smile. “Fine then. If you insist.” He stroked his chin, pretending to look deep in thought. “So…Ranewen? But that sounds too formal. Do you have a nickname you prefer?”
I found myself grinning again. “Rana.”
“Rana.” He tried the word, and then must have decided that he liked the way it tasted on his tongue, because he smiled approvingly. “So, Rana, tell me about…you said Zendikar, right? That’s the same place Doc said he’s from.”
I nodded, and finally decided that it was safe to lean against the crawler beside him. I was sure my extra weight wouldn’t be enough to tip it over…or break anything. “I don’t know exactly where he’s from, but it’s certainly not where I grew up. Merfolk don’t spend much time all the way up in the jaddi-trees. They don’t have the climbing implements we do, or the good balance. They’d fall and break their necks in ten seconds flat.” I chuckled softly. “Though maybe he might last a bit longer. He has wings. I’d give him an extra minute.”
Venser nearly choked on his sudden laughter, but in an instant he had composed himself. His grin was even wider than mine had been, once he had caught his breath. “I would tell you not to underestimate the great Vincenius, but I swear that mer has ears everywhere. He’d cuff me over the head next time I stopped by for an alchemy lesson, just for a bit of sarcasm.”
I giggled. “I highly doubt that.”
In response, Venser gave a short shrug. “Who knows? I sure don’t. All I know is that he’s a great leader, and great leaders have great spies.” He eyed me with mock suspicion, raising his brow. “In fact, I could be talking to one right now.”
I giggled again, and gave him a playful swat on the arm. “Oh, stop that. I’d be a horrible spy. I’m no good at stealth, or keeping a straight face.”
Venser laughed. He then pretended to rub the hurt out of where I had hit him. I had been wavering on the thought for some time now, but in that instant I finally decided that I liked him – At the very least, he was much more fun to talk to than Koth. “Well then, why are you and the dour knight here on Mirrodin, seeking us out, if you don’t have some hidden agenda? Doc never got around to telling me.”
The dour knight. This time, I was the one who nearly choked. “It’s…complicated.” Once I had suppressed the bout of laughter that was bubbling up in my chest, I sighed, and shook my head. “You really want me to tell the whole story right now? It’s…kinda long. And not very happy. It involves giant creatures that destroy everything, and then eat what’s left of the plane afterward.”
But as soon as the word “destroy” escaped my lips, the crawler behind us jerked. Venser and I pulled away quickly enough, but suddenly there was a terrible grating sound, like a thousand Koths scraping against a thousand tents, and it was so loud and overwhelming that I staggered backward into the empty table. My hands flew up to cover my ears.
“Ah!” Venser cried. “S***! Sorry, sorry!”
I saw him reach out a hand that flashed blue, and then the sphere disappeared from the crawler’s glass tank and reappeared a second later in his open palm. He closed his fist around it, and at once, as quickly as it had started, the noise stopped. The artificer turned to me with an apologetic look.
“Guess I might want to fix it sooner rather than later, huh?”
I was a little shaken, but otherwise fine. My breath came out in a nervous laugh. “I see that’s what you meant.”
Venser nodded before setting the sphere down on the nearby workbench, beside his grinding tool. “Yeah.” He smiled thinly when he turned back to me, and ran a few fingers through his hair. It only served to mess it up more. “Science isn’t always pleasant, especially when it comes to Phyrexian technology. I mean, it all has a tendency to self-destruct, for one thing.” He shrugged. “But I’ve been studying the stuff my entire life, so I guess I’m used to it. Or at least, more so than most people. I don’t think there’s a person alive who could ever get completely jaded to anything Phyrexian. Except the Phyrexians themselves.” His voice suddenly took on a faraway tone, even as his eyes glazed over - and in that instant I realized that he was staring right through me, thinking of someplace else, perhaps sometime else. “I’ll be the first to admit that the means are horrible, but the wonders of those devices…amazing. I’ve been able to make great things out of them before.”
His mixed emotions of nostalgia and awe struck a chord in me, and I smiled. “Well, the way I see it, things can do either good or bad depending on the hands they’re placed in. That’s how the whole world works. Or at least that’s what I think.”
He smiled too, slightly, but I could see that his eyes were still unfocused. For a moment, a hint of anger flashed across his face. “Koth thinks that ambulators will ‘destroy the delicate balance of the planes.’” He scoffed. “He doesn’t get it. I just want to give other people the opportunity to experience what we do, to travel from plane to plane and see new things. Is that really so bad?”
I didn’t answer his question. “…Ambulators?”
“Planeswalking devices.” His voice was suddenly soft. “I made my first one before my spark ignited.”
The way he spoke, it almost sounded as if he were recalling a long-dead lover. I found myself at once both sympathetic, and curious. “In that case, it sounds to me like Koth is just being narrow-minded. So long as they don’t fall into the wrong hands, what’s the problem? They sound like they would be really useful.”
“That’s the thing,” Venser muttered, and he slumped wearily against the unmoving crawler. “The Phyrexians have them already. That’s how they got to Mirrodin in the first place.”
Well, that explains it. I was wondering how they traveled. I leaned back again too, next to him. “But that doesn’t make any sense.” I furrowed my brow in confusion. “Why wouldn’t Koth want the good guys to have access to the technology too? That would level the field. It’s not fair otherwise.”
Venser threw up his hands in exasperation, and let out a sound that was half-laugh, half-sigh. “Who knows? I’m half-convinced the man’s cracked, really. One minute he’s calm as a statue, and then the next he’s in an unstoppable blood frenzy. Maybe that’s what the heat here does to you, if you stay out in it too long.” Finally he smiled again, and allowed it to engulf his entire face as he lost himself in his thoughts once more. Happy thoughts this time. “It gets me excited, just thinking about what we could do if I could build even just one more ambulator. Imagine if Vincenius could bring his entire merfolk army to fight with us – or if Elspeth could take her people to a new home, far away from Grixis’s horrors!”
His mention of Elspeth was like a needle in my heart. Suddenly, I felt sad. “Or if I could take my tribe somewhere else,” I whispered, though I hadn’t meant to. My gaze was on the floor, on the toes of my new gold boots. “Somewhere safe.”
To my surprise, instead of getting a slew of questions in response to my unbidden outburst, I felt a hand rest itself on my arm. When I looked up, I saw Venser smiling down at me, kindly. There was just as much warmth in his gaze as there was in his touch. “If I do build one,” he said then, “you’ll be the first person I tell.”
I gave a start at that. His words were so much more of a surprise than his gesture had been that I found myself laughing, out of nothing more than disbelief. “Now that can’t be true.” Even so, I couldn’t help but smile. “I just met you, Venser! You do know that you don’t have to be nice to me, right?”
Venser chuckled, though at the same time his gaze seemed to…deepen, almost. I realized with another start that he looked utterly serious. “And you’ve shown far more interest in my work than anyone has in centuries. No joke. I do believe, Rana, that I’m allowed to take that into account.”
I was at a loss for words. All I could think to do was smile more…and so I did. “Well, um…thank you. I appreciate it.”
The artificer smiled back, and in one fluid motion he had pushed himself off of the crawler and turned to a rack of shelves on the other side of his workbench. He began to rummage through their contents, pushing aside large bags and racks of glass vials in his search for…whatever he was searching for. I took a step closer. “Need any help?”
“I’m looking for grain,” he answered. His voice was muffled on account of his head being buried nearly two feet deep in cluttered shelf. He was leaning forward, stretching to see if his object of interest had perhaps fallen behind the structure of the rack – but unfortunately, it looked liked it hadn’t. “I brought a couple sacks in from Dominaria a few days ago, was thinking of getting some food…”
“Grain?” The word was unfamiliar to me.
Finally Venser pulled back, and when he had extracted himself from the tangle of metal enough to stand straight, he let out his breath in a huff and turned to fix me with a puzzled look. “You know…for making bread.”
I chuckled and shook my head. “I’ve never heard of either of those things before. We must not have them back on Zendikar.”
There was a moment’s pause, and then he burst out laughing. Loudly. “You’re serious! Oh, wow…I guess it makes sense, though. Vincenius said it’s hard to grow anything there with that Roil phenomenon.” He grinned then, and leaned in to me with his hands on his hips. “You have to try it. It’s really good if you make it right.”
I acknowledged that my stomach was growling – quietly, to my good fortune, but I still felt like I hadn’t eaten in days. With the length of my forced unconsciousness, perhaps I hadn’t. “Alright,” I agreed, folding my arms over my chest. “I guess I’ll have to trust you on this one.” I felt the corners of my lips twitch before turning up in a grin to match his. “What is it, anyway?”
Venser reached out a hand to me. “Here. I’ll show you.”
I knew what he was intending by offering the extended limb, but I decided to tease him anyway. For the first time in weeks, I was feeling back to my usual self again. Joking. Cheerful. “What, is there some sort of ritual we have to do before we can make it? I wasn’t aware that Dominarian cooking required that much effort.”
The artificer snorted. “Yes, Rana, I need a human sacrifice before I can even mix the ingredients together. Now come on. Let’s go, before Doc bursts in here with some odd job for me to do.”
Giggling at his failed attempt to keep a straight face – and mine – I finally took his hand, and the vaguely organized clutter of Venser’s workshop blurred around me as we teleported away.
Making bread was a far more daunting task than I had anticipated.
You had to crush that grain substance into dust, then mix it together with another powder and water until it was a paste, and then knead the paste into a squishy, pliable consistency before finally baking it in a little slot over a fire. By the time the last step had been accomplished, my arms were sore and I was thoroughly covered in a layer of the grain-dust – the sight of which had sent Venser doubling over his knees with laughter, when I had accidentally spilled it all over myself. I had not been so amused. I thought it was going to stick to me forever, and to the shiny metal surface of his counter. Fortunately, though, it seemed as if a wet cloth sufficed to get it all off. After that point, I had laughed right along with him.
The entire time that the two of us had been working, I recounted the story of what had happened to me ever since I had started this interesting journey of mine – from my first encounter with Sorin, all the way up to the moment that I met Venser in the Mephidross. He had listened attentively, smiling and joking and asking questions every now and then, when they were called for. He even asked a little more about my life in Zendikar, too. I had obliged each of his requests, and in turn asked him about his life back in the swamps of Urborg – though he, unlike me, didn’t have much to say. His mother had passed away when he was young, and his father had disappeared into the swamps, never to return, a few years after that, leaving little Venser all alone to fend for himself. “That,” he had said with a roguish grin, upon seeing my sympathetic expression, “is how I learned how to cook. No motivator quite like death by starvation staring you in the face!”
His good humor hadn’t faded in the least since the time I had first walked into his workshop. In fact, the longer the day wore on, the brighter his mood seemed to get. By the time the bread was ready to eat, and we both sat down at his tiny little table in his crowded little kitchen in his cramped little flat, he was positively beaming. I found myself realizing that if I hadn’t had a friendly visitor in awhile – let alone years, as he had said – I would probably be acting the same way. Not as if I begrudged him his behavior. In truth, I found it endearing, just as much so as when he had called me ‘m’lady.’
“So what do you think?” he asked now, fixing me with an expectant smile. I had just taken my first bite into the little piece of bread I had cut for myself.
I chewed, and chewed, and then finally I swallowed, and when I did I could almost feel my eyes light up. “Spirits, you’re right! That does taste good!” I stared down at what remained of the slice in my hands, unable to stop myself from letting out a short laugh of wonderment. “That’s such a shame, that we can’t grow these grain crops of yours on Zendikar. I could have packed this for my hikes, or for when I went hunting out of range! It’s the perfect size, even!”
The expression on my face – or the tone of my voice, or both – must have been amusing to him, because Venser chuckled. “This is why planeswalking is so wonderful,” he said, simply. “Every world has something new to experience.”
I grinned, and rested my chin in my hands before giving him a conspiratorial wink. I took another bite. “Well,” I said, once the food was safely down my throat, “you’ve got me convinced. We’ll just have to keep it from Koth then, won’t we?”
Venser laughed heartily at that. His brown eyes were alight, even from all the way across the table. “I have to say, Rana, I like your thinking.”
“Good! It’s about time I found someone I can actually talk to. I thought I wasn’t going to find a single person on one of these planes who isn’t either broody, crazy, or in danger of lighting me on fire whenever we hit a touchy topic.” I giggled, and took a sip of the gel fruit wine that seemed to be the drink of choice here on Mirrodin. It was so sweet that I could barely taste the alcohol.
Venser shrugged. He gave me an easy smile in turn as he, too, took a drink from his own glass, and when he was finished he set it back down lightly. “I’m always here if you need me.” For a moment he paused, and when he looked back up at me again his smile had broadened into the warm, buoyant grin that I had come to know in so short a time. “Especially considering your other options.”
The thought that I now had a friend I could come to gave me comfort, more so than I would have expected before today’s events. “Thank you, Venser. Really.” The haze of the wine – which we had both been drinking all evening – was starting to hit me at last, but I kept my smile steady as I looked at him and felt a sudden rush of gratitude.
The artificer wasn’t one to miss details, though. He chuckled. “You’re swaying a little, you know. Not practiced at holding your alcohol?”
I laughed. It was a little embarrassing that he had noticed, but I wasn’t going to let it bother me. “I’ll be fine, I swear! I’ve barely even touched my food. I’m sure I’ll be better after I get a little bit of it in me.”
“We’ve been here all evening,” Venser reminded me, gently, “and you’re going to find that that particular type of wine makes you pretty tired once its effects set in. Why don’t you take the rest of your bread, I’ll take you back to your tent, and you can stop by tomorrow if you still want? Here, I’ll even save some for you so we could try this again then.”
I had to admit that he was right – I was starting to feel strangely sleepy, and at once I remembered having the same experience after eating my first gel fruit on Koth and my trek to Ish Sah. With the wine’s alcohol, though, the effect was more potent this time. “Fine,” I relented, “I guess. But only if you promise that we get a do-over.”
Venser smiled. He reached over across the table, and put his hand on my forearm, firmly. “Not a do-over,” he said, “just another try.” There was a faint flush on his face that I attributed to the impending effects of his wine, and I wondered vaguely if I had it too, if that was what had keyed him in to my state of not-so-sobriety. “I’ll, ah…I’ll see you around, Rana.”
And before I could say anything in response, I was spinning and spinning and getting suddenly dizzy, and Venser’s desk and stacks of papers and trinkets in the background were disappearing, and then I was just elsewhere, in my tent…alone. Even Jace was gone.
Still holding my bread – though my hunger was all but forgotten in the wake of my sudden exhaustion (or had it been there this whole time?) – I pulled off my gold garb as carefully as I could, curled into my bedroll with the sheet tight around me, and then allowed myself to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Last edited by Anaithnid; 08-14-2011 at 08:28 AM.
|08-04-2011, 06:42 AM||#18|
Join Date: Jun 2011
Though it took a good deal of effort, my eyes finally slid open.
Jace was kneeling on his bedroll beside me, a piece of parchment between his fingers and an odd expression on his face. He raised an eyebrow as he looked at me. “You, ah…alright there?”
As I sat up, I frowned. I was too tired still to be all aflutter, and damn everything to the nine hells, my head was pounding! I reached up to rub my fingers against my temples, but somehow that only seemed to make things worse. “What do you mean?”
To my surprise, Jace’s response was for a faint blush to color his cheeks, and then to sigh and turn his head. He stared fixedly at the parchment in his hand as he held it out to one side, and when he spoke, he sounded almost…embarrassed. “Apparently, you’re not decent at the moment.”
“Huh?” When I looked down, all the fog in my head evaporated in an instant – The sheet I had wrapped around myself when I went to bed last night was slowly slipping down, exposing the top of my bare chest. I let out a little squeak and pulled it back into place before I accidentally showed off anything improper. My face burned. “Uh…sorry. I was too tired to change into anything before I went to sleep.”
Jace shook his head, but I could see that his lips were twitching as he tried – and failed – to hold back a smile. “Is it safe to look now?”
“Yeah.” I tied the ends of the sheet together under one arm with a knot. I figured that that would do until he finished whatever business he had in here, and left the tent so I could change. My new gold Mirrodin garb was too bulky to deftly slip into underneath the sheet – and what with all the pointy parts, I would probably just end up ripping a hole in it anyway. “What’s that you have? It looks like a map.”
Jace turned back to me, scooting a little closer so that he could hold out the parchment for me to see. “That’s because it is,” he said. “It’s crude, but it shows all the entrances to the refugee camp. While you were sleeping, I was out setting up illusions here,” he pointed to the map, “here, and here to keep any stray Phyrexians at bay. Not sure how well it will work at this point, but I figured that it was worth a try.”
I shrugged and offered him a grin. “Sounds like a good idea to me.”
Jace nodded. His voice had grown quieter, but only a little. As he spoke, he reached up to brush a fallen lock of hair out of his eyes, and then again with a flicker of irritation when it fell right back. “I had to keep myself busy somehow, while you were recovering.”
My groggy temper vanished as I suddenly remembered Vincenius’s words back in the clinic – How Jace had lost sleep coming to check up on me, day after day, even though he was already giving his all in the fight against the Phyrexians. I smiled, warmly. “From what I hear, you kept plenty busy. Vincenius told me how much of a help you’ve been.”
For a moment Jace blinked, as if surprised, but then his gaze settled back to normal and he smiled at me in return. “Well, that’s good to know. I’m not used to the style of fighting they use here – It’s far too melee-oriented for me, and I thought I was doing horribly.” He paused, and then his smile widened. “…He really said that, though?”
I laughed. The way he looked – head tilted to the side, curious eyes, hopeful expression – gave him that air of boyishness from before, that rare humanity that all the planeswalkers I had met so far, save for Venser, seemed to have trouble finding most of the time. “Yes, Jace, he said that. He also said that you, um…” I blushed, though I had been trying my best not to, “…that you were checking up on me, every day. Is that true?”
Jace grinned unabashedly. Hearing that Vincenius found him useful seemed to have lightened his mood, and my suspicion was confirmed when I heard the teasing note in his voice. “Well, someone had to make sure that the crazy fish doctor didn’t inject you with too many chemicals. I mean, we did lose a few of his soldiers in the battles – Who’s to say he wouldn’t take you on as a replacement?”
Though I scoffed at his words, inside I felt a secret rush of relief. Jace seemed to have let go of whatever negativity he was holding against me before Koth and I left for Ish Sah – either that, or he was just in an exceptionally good mood. Whichever option, though, I felt much better. “I say so!” I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my knees. I tried to keep my expression deadly serious as I gazed at Jace, but…to be honest, I was pretty sure I was doing an awful job. “Vincenius made a point of telling me the very first time I visited his clinic that his army is made up entirely of volunteers. He wouldn’t just whip out his magic and start mutating people willy-nilly! I’m sure even you know that!”
Jace chuckled. “For someone who was complaining about how fearsome he is in battle just a couple of weeks ago, you certainly have a lot of faith in him.”
I shrugged, and reached a hand out to finger the metal of one of my pauldrons. “He can’t be that bad.” I managed to keep a straight face for a good five seconds after my deadpan, and then immediately I broke out into a grin. “He gave me a present.”
Jace chuckled again before reaching out too, and delicately he lifted the gold off of the ground a few inches so that he could inspect it. “Hmmm.” After a moment he set it back down, and cocked an eyebrow at me. “Well, other than the ears, I bet you blend in perfectly with all the other auriok now.”
I opened my mouth to ask him, curious, what an auriok was – But before I could, there was a rustling at the entrance to the tent, and a blue, finned head poked its way through the cloth flaps. Involuntarily, I withdrew even further under my sheet.
One of Vincenius’s mer soldiers stood in front of us half-bent, with the cloth flaps spread out across his bare shoulders like a blanket he had long since outgrown. Jace must have known him, because the two exchanged a brief nod before the newcomer turned to me. When he did – and saw my own bare shoulders poking out from beneath the sheet – his eyebrows darted up his forehead, and a knowing grin slowly began to spread across his face. Oh, s***.
“Am I…interrupting something? Should I come back later?”
I turned a thousand different shades of red. Quickly as I could, I averted my gaze, but Jace (damn him), only made things worse by letting out a hearty laugh. To my relief, though, it didn’t last long. When I finally had the courage to look up again, he was waving a hand at the mer dismissively.
“No, no, you’re fine, Efrem. I just got here a short while ago, and she just woke up. Nothing to see here.”
“Ah.” Efrem rested a hand on his hip, and when he moved I caught a brief glimpse of the serrated spear that he was holding in his other hand, outside the tent. “Well, I just came to tell you that Commander Vincenius has requested both of your presences in the dining hall of his clinic. He says that you have important business to discuss.”
All at once, Jace’s jovial expression sobered. It happened as quickly as donning a mask. “Business…” He stood swiftly, gathering up what few possessions he had strewn about as he went. Though it was still as blazing hot as it ever was here, he began to pull on his dark undershirt and his dyed-blue leathers, layer after layer. Buckling the straps tight, he paused in his efforts only to throw the bulk of his cloak over his shoulder.
“Time to pack up, Ranewen,” he said, looking down at me for a brief second. The mirth in his eyes had vanished when I met them, and had been replaced with his usual calm unreadability. My heart sank at the sight of it. “It looks like we might be heading back to Ravnica soon. I’ll meet you outside the tent in a few minutes.”
Once I had gotten dressed and ready, I stowed my other outfit and my hunting knife in the leather bag that Jace had given me before we left for Mirrodin, and we were off. The walk didn’t take as long as usual – likely because Efrem knew the byways of the refugee camp better than I, and thus was able to take every available shortcut. I stopped listening to the conversation between him and Jace after the first five minutes. They were talking strategy and weaponry and Phyrexian this and praetor that, and for once my insatiable curiosity seemed to be missing in action. Perhaps it was because I was still a bit tired, but…for some reason, I just wasn’t interested. At all. The only thing I found myself thinking about was Zendikar.
Lately I had been berating myself for not saying my goodbyes before I left, for getting caught up in all the strangeness and excitement of my spark igniting and the handsome mage coming to my rescue against a vampire, and…well, now the guilt was finally catching up to me. It hurt, far more than I had expected it to.
But before I could dwell on my own darknesses more, I realized that we had arrived. Efrem led Jace and I through the clinic’s myriad of rooms until we finally emerged through a set of tall, polished double doors – Venser’s handiwork, perhaps? The carvings looked nearly identical to the ones adorning his workshop entrance – into a spacious hall. A long table spread down the length of the room at the center, and the first several yards of it were covered in dozens of clay bowls of the most brightly colored, delicious-looking fruit I had ever seen, and steaming platters of dishes that I couldn’t even guess at. They all smelled mouthwateringly fantastic, though. I hadn’t even realized how hungry I was until that moment.
Vincenius was sitting at the head of the table, smiling. “Jace! Ranewen! Good of you two to join us. Thank you, Efrem – You may go. I will speak to you later.” The soldier departed with a bow, leaving Jace and I to stand there in the doorway and take in the scene. Koth was sitting to Vincenius’s left, and a white-robed, dark-haired figure to his right – which I realized, as I breathed in deeply, was Elspeth – and there were three sets of silverware laid out in front of three empty chairs. Venser must be coming too, I noted. He was nowhere to be seen, but as I took a few steps closer to the table there was suddenly a loud pop, and then the artificer was just standing in front of me, pulling out one of the empty chairs.
“Here, I got that for you,” he said. He tilted his head a little and smiled at me roguishly.
I grinned. So did Vincenius, and beside me I heard a soft breath of feminine laughter. As always, Koth remained stony-faced – how could anyone expect anything different? – but as Jace took the empty seat next to him, I thought I caught a hint of a frown as it crossed his lips. But I could have been wrong.
When I took the offered chair and Venser sat down beside me, Vincenius folded his hands and leaned forward across the table. He nodded officiously. “Thank you, everyone, for agreeing to come to breakfast with me this morning. I am sure you all have some idea of the business I convened this meeting to discuss – after all, the evidence is sitting right here among us.” He turned to Jace and I in turn with an inscrutable smile, and though Jace’s expression didn’t change, I found myself smiling back. I couldn’t help it.
“These two planeswalkers came to us in their hour of need, and though our fight was not theirs, they provided us with invaluable assistance nonetheless. They have helped us not only to defend Mirrodin against the Phyrexian horde, but they have returned two of our number to us, safe and sound, from a captivity the likes of which I would not wish on my worst foe.” The mer’s voice was smoother than I had heard it yet, and it rang with a clear note of authority derived from years of commanding the respect of others. “I speak for all of us when I thank them again, and inform them that we are at their service, so long as what they may request of us does not prove too dire, or entirely impossible.”
I sat enthralled. I knew Vincenius was a powerful commander and planeswalker, but I had never expected him to speak so eloquently. When he signaled that he was finished by sitting back in his chair and sweeping an arm toward Jace, though, my attention instantly shifted. I didn’t know if Jace wanted me to chime in at any point – much less what I would actually say if he did – but I wanted to be prepared, just in case.
“I won’t speak long,” he said then as he stood, his voice sounding clipped but firm. “Vincenius has been a gracious enough host to share food with us, and I won’t be so careless as to allow it to go cold.” He nodded once before continuing, and then shifted his gaze to meet mine. I felt inexplicably self-conscious. “As I have informed you all over the past week, a great force threatens Ranewen’s home plane, as it does the rest of the multiverse if allowed to proceed in its actions unchecked. The Eldrazi are incredibly dangerous creatures, as are their spawn that we call the “brood lineage.” Not only can they walk worlds, but they can…consume them – in a matter of days, even, or so the legends say. The only way to defeat them is to amass as much power as we can in a head-to-head confrontation, to which end I call upon you, my fellow planeswalkers, for assistance. There are still many other walkers my team and I back on Ravnica have yet to find, and any assistance you can field in that realm would also be greatly appreciated. However, the main thing that we are asking of you, the only true thing…” He paused momentarily, and looked around at Vincenius, Koth, Elspeth, and Venser in turn with an expression so grave that I felt the beginnings of a chill crawl down my spine, “…is for you to fight by our side in the great battle to re-imprison the Eldrazi. We fight not only for Zendikar and its denizens, but for the fate of the entire multiverse, even the Blind Eternities itself.” There was another pause, and then Jace seated himself back down, quickly, and with what I assumed to be an intentional flourish of cloak. The entire room had fallen silent as its inhabitants stared off into their own bits of space in thought.
Suddenly, I heard a voice rise from next to me. “Hells, I’ll go.”
I turned to face Venser, my movements and expression sharp with surprise. Across from me, Jace looked much the same as I felt. “Venser?” I asked, dubiously.
He turned to me, and then to Jace, and then back to me again before nodding. “Yeah. I mean, aren’t I the obvious choice?” He shifted a little in his chair, the fabric of his long brown tunic rustling against his curved silver pauldrons. There was a note of something in his face that I couldn’t quite decipher. “Vincenius is the commander and head doctor – People need him here. Maybe he could planeswalk away for short periods of time, but in the long run…no.” He shook his head, and I watched his brown-eyed gaze shift across the table to the vulshok as he gestured. “Koth’s fight is for Mirrodin, against the Phyrexians. I don’t think any of us could, in our right minds, ask him to leave his people.”
“Wisely spoken, tinkerer,” Koth responded, interrupting like a sudden rumble of thunder. There was a pause, and then he said, more quietly, “Though I would not shy away from a single battle where my strength is greatly needed.” He turned to fix his steely gaze on Jace. “To that end, boy, and to the end that we already agreed upon, my magic is yours.”
“As is mine,” chimed in Vincenius. When I looked over at him, I saw a small smile twisting the mer’s lips. “I will stand beside you against the Eldrazi, but until then, my place is here. If you have something you wish of me in the meantime, I am but a short walk away.”
“I, for one, am in agreement with Venser. As soon as I have made a full recovery, I am yours to command whenever you so wish.”
At once the entire table turned to face the soft voice that had just spoken, to Elspeth. She sat calmly with her hands folded in her lap, staring straight ahead at the wall with blank grey eyes. Her utter lack of expression troubled me. Was she recalling the horrors that she had endured under the Phyrexians? Was the trauma of it all too much for her to take? I had an instinctive urge to reach out and place my hand over hers, as my sister had always done to me whenever I was lost in my own thoughts way back when, but of course that would be foolish. She didn’t know me, I didn’t know her. The gesture would just come off as being patronizing, and that was the last impression I wanted to make.
“Elspeth,” Vincenius said gently, “Venser. Are you both sure of your decisions?”
Elspeth simply nodded, but Venser spoke up from my other side. “Why not?” He shrugged, and I felt a warm rush of gratitude when he put on his most charming smile in what I assumed was an attempt to lighten the serious tone of the conversation. He threw me a glance out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve always liked seeing new places, and if I go with them now then I get to see at least two. Besides, I can come back here at any time if someone needs me to build something.”
Several moments passed in silence, and then finally, slowly, Vincenius nodded. “Very well,” he said. From the note of finality in his voice, it was clear that the discussion was well and truly complete. “The decision has been made. Venser will return to Ravnica with Jace and Ranewen, and Elspeth shall remain here under my care until she is in fighting form again. Any objections?”
There were none. There were, however, several pairs of hungry eyes on the buffet of food, mine among them.
Vincenius noticed and let out a short laugh. “Well then, I won’t delay you all any longer. Go ahead, eat – That’s what it’s here for!”
And eat we did. The meat that had smelled so good on my way in was still warm, and still tasted slightly of copper, but it was spiced enough that it didn’t bother me at all. Despite that, however, and despite all the other dishes laid out in front of me, the fruit had to be my favorite thing at the table. I hadn’t seen anything like it before – there were spheres of green with tough rinds and tart centers, crisp yellow oblong shapes that tasted of sweet summer rain, pale red globes that looked similar to gel fruit but were far softer, and far more flavorful. I relished every bite. After a few minutes of eating in silent wonder, Venser leaned over to me, close enough so that he could be heard over the conversation that Vincenius had started up across the table with Koth and Jace.
“None of these are native to Mirrodin, did you know that?” He noted my look of confusion (it was all I could do with my mouth full) with a chuckle, and sat back in his chair a little. “Doc has a garden plane all to himself. He claimed it for his own long before the Mending, or so he says – Me, I think what with all the power planeswalkers used to have, he might’ve just built it. Every couple of days he heads out there to recuperate, and when he comes back he brings all this with him.”
I finally swallowed my bite, and looked over at Venser with a smile. “Well, it’s better than gel fruit, that’s for sure.”
The artificer grinned. “Wake up with a headache this morning?”
Remembering the throbbing ache in my skull that had only just eased up, I tried to scowl. Instead, it quickly dissolved into a giggle. “You knew the whole time that was going to happen! You bastard, you should have warned me earlier.”
He put a hand to his chest in mock affront. “But m’lady, I did! It’s not my fault you were so eager to prove you can hold your alcohol!”
“Which apparently, I can’t yet.”
He shook his head, and smiled. “Ah, you’ll get the hang of it eventually. It just takes a bit of practice and pacing.” For a moment he paused, and then his smile turned a little more sincere as he regarded me. “Looks like we’re going to have to postpone our dinner though, huh?”
Now it was my turn to shake my head. “Not necessarily.” I smiled too. “We might just have to relocate it, that’s all. Not so bad, right?”
Venser laughed, a soft rich sound. “No, not at all. I look forward to it.”
Then, before I could say anything more to him, I felt a sudden warmth against my hand where it lay on my lap – and to my utter surprise, when I looked down I found Elspeth’s hand covering my own. My eyes widened. I lifted my head to face her, and when I did I felt my breath catch in my throat.
Her gaze was completely unlike before, deep and haunting and full of too many mixed emotions for me to distinguish. I found myself momentarily unable to breathe. “Thank you,” she whispered. Without pretense, she turned my palm upright in hers, and then I felt something cool and heavy drop into it. I didn’t dare look away from her though – not yet. “Vincenius told me that you were the one who saved my life. This is…not much, but I wanted to give it to you as a small token of my thanks. It was mine, once.” She closed my fingers around the smooth object in my palm, and finally, I pulled my eyes from her grey ones to chance a look down at it. My heart skipped a beat.
“But Lady Elspeth, I…” I held up the large gold medallion she had given me with reverence, taking in the beautifully etched symbols on it, the gleaming sun and the majestic eagle soaring over a field of flowers. “You shouldn’t be giving me this. Vincenius was the one who nursed you back to health, not me. I don’t deserve it.”
But Elspeth shook her head vehemently. “No, dear Ranewen. You valor in battle will not go unrewarded, not so long as I live. You may not realize the bravery of what you did, not yet, but…I do.” Her hand still remained clasped over mine, and I could feel my heart pounding in my ears as I met her gaze again. It held such powerful sincerity that, for a moment, just one…I almost believed her. “Where I once called home, these sigils were given for great feats of strength and self-sacrifice. You have done such a thing on my behalf. It is a debt I cannot hope to repay, but until I find some way that I can, somehow, I offer you a piece of my own honor.”
For a long moment, I couldn’t find the right words for what I wanted to say. After another moment, I gave up trying. “Thank you,” I said. My voice was faint, almost strained, and as I looked at Elspeth and her worn yet beautiful face, at her black hair that fell loose over her shoulders, I felt an all-too-familiar ache build in my chest. “I will cherish this always, my lady.”
But Elspeth said nothing else. She merely smiled, and with that she turned back to the food in front of her and resumed eating.
The breakfast continued on for another hour or so before Jace finally stood, nodding to Venser and I as if to say, ‘Time to leave.” Goodbyes were brief, since we all knew that we would be seeing one another again shortly – Though as I slung the strap of my bag over my shoulder and headed to the empty space by the door with Jace and Venser on either side, I stole one last look at Elspeth. Vincenius stood behind her chair, smiling and waving, but she herself did not move. Instead, she remained seated with her hands folded in her lap, and her eyes followed me wherever I went. When I at last found them with my own she treated me to a small smile, so delicate that if I could hold it in my hands I was sure it would break instantly.
Before I could stare overlong, though, Jace tore apart the fabric of reality with his mind, and he stepped through the shimmering cerulean curtain into the Blind Eternities. I followed, with Venser right at my heels.
My third planeswalk was no less strange and arduous than the first two, but despite the lack of a sense of time in the void, it felt somehow shorter than them both. It wasn’t long before I was stepping out from the swirling, dizzying masses of light and color and sound and onto one of the plush rugs of the Consortium compound’s common room. I sank right down onto the nearest couch. Compared to Mirrodin, the Ravnican air was so cool that I began to drink in deep breaths of it like water, until Venser at last emerged, dazed, where I had been standing a moment ago. As soon as he exited, the portal vanished.
“Ugh.” He groaned, rubbing the side of his head as he stumbled his way over to sit next to me. When he did, he let out his breath in a huff. “I don’t think I was prepared enough for that one. Must not have been concentrating when I entered from Mirrodin…”
Jace then stepped away from the window that he had been staring out of, and came close to rest a palm on the arm of the couch beside me. His blue eyes were alight. “Hey, it happens. At least we all made it here in one piece.” For a moment he paused to favor me with a smile, which sent a flurry of butterflies to wing in my chest, and then he straightened and began to pace back and forth across the length of the rug. “And I managed to get Koth to agree to work with Sorin, who’s going to planeswalk to Mirrodin as soon as he gets back with Chandra so he can teach him how to remake the central hedron.”
Venser chuckled and folded his arms over his chest. “I’m afraid I lost you there, captain.”
Jace shook his head. “No, don’t worry about it. I’ll explain everything to you later.” He hefted the pack that he had been carrying into a more comfortable position, and then started off toward the stairs without so much as a glance back. “Right now I need to get a few things settled, so just relax, have a drink, take a walk around Ravnica…whatever you like. I’ll be back down by sunset, and we can discuss the situation then.” He didn’t wait for a reply from either of us, and instead took the steps up two at a time, his cloak billowing out behind him the whole way. When he had disappeared from sight, Venser chuckled again.
“Well, he’s certainly in a hurry.”
I smiled, wistfully. “Yeah. He always seems to have something or other to do.”
“But we don’t!” Grinning, Venser stood, and he held out a hand to me once he had smoothed the wrinkles from his tunic. “Why don’t we take him up on that last option? I haven’t gotten to see Ravnica up close yet. Hells, I haven’t even gotten to see it from afar.” He tilted his chin toward the towering windows, and then paused for a moment, as if he had just thought of something. Still grinning, he nodded to me. “Though I’m going to venture a guess that people here don’t exactly walk around wearing outfits made of pure gold.”
I snorted. Fortunately, the sound came out almost ladylike. “Yeah, you’re right.” I took his hand, and allowed him to help me to my feet – which, to my surprise, took almost no effort on his part. Once I was upright, I adjusted the weight of my bag’s strap where it hung from my shoulder. “I’ll go change into something a little less conspicuous, and we can head out after that. Deal?”
Venser nodded. “Deal.”
Clad in the long, flowing white tunic that someone had bought for me while I was gone and then left in my closet – Chandra, I guessed, from the little smiling face drawn on a scrap of paper that I had found pinned to one of the sleeves – and my usual brown leggings and boots, Venser and I made our way out of the compound. It took nearly a half hour of walking to pass through the entire expanse of the Rubblefield once we had achieved that feat, but when we finally did we strode purposefully, side by side, into the city proper.
Buildings stretched high above us all around, with twisting spires and looming archways and glittering stained-glass windows the likes of which I had never seen before – and that was only what lay above my head. At eye level the streets were packed with throngs of brightly-dressed people, either walking from one place to the next, or stopping on street corners to chat, or examining the wares that vendors hawked from behind the shade and safety of their wooden carts. Venser and I had been holding idle conversation about our surroundings up until now, but the further we walked from the compound, the more my brewing idea came to a boil in the forefront of my mind. It took nearly all of my effort to keep my tongue in check, but finally, as we rounded a corner near a market square, I realized that I couldn’t hold back any longer.
“Venser,” I said. The tone in my voice must have caught him off guard, because he stopped dead in his tracks to look down at me. Someone bumped into him from behind and grumbled, so he stepped off to the side, against the wall of a modest brick building. I followed.
“What is it, Rana?” he asked. The note of concern in his voice made me feel suddenly guilty, but I wasn’t about to back down now. I couldn’t. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to ask him anything terrible.
“Do you know if…” I swallowed, and looked around briefly to see if anyone was obviously listening in on us. No one was. No one even seemed to notice us, now that we were out of the way of the foot traffic. Slowly, I shifted my weight from one leg to the other. “…if planeswalkers can sense one another, when they walk? I need to know. It’s important.”
Venser looked taken aback by the question, but his expression quickly settled into one of deep thought. After a long moment, he shrugged. “Well…there are spells for it, yes, but other than that…no, not passively or anything.” He examined me closely, and as I watched his brow began to furrow. “Why? Are you hiding something?”
Hearing the suspicious tone that had found its way into his voice, I held up my hands and shook my head vigorously. “No!” I exclaimed. “No, I’m not. I just…” I sighed, and reached up to twirl a lock of hair around my finger – the same habit I always resorted to whenever I was anxious. “I want to go home, Venser. Just once. I didn’t get to say my goodbyes before I left, and it’s haunting me, and I want to go back for just a little while so I can…so I can do that. So I can tell everyone where I’m going, and what I’m fighting for.” There was a moment’s pause, and then my gaze shifted to the worn cobblestones beneath my feet, unable to hold onto anything else. Especially not Venser’s eyes, kind as they were. “They probably think I’m dead by now, anyway. I want to let them know that I’m safe and well.”
Indeed Venser’s eyes were kind, and intent too, because when he spoke next I couldn’t stop myself from looking up and into them. “Well, why not just go?” A flicker of anger crossed his face then, and all of a sudden he took ahold of my shoulders, though not roughly. I balked a little at the sharp severity that had overcome his voice. “Are they keeping you here against your will? Is that what’s going on?”
“No!” I realized right away how indignant my own voice sounded, and I worked to correct it. Gently, I took his hands off of me and lowered them to his sides. “It’s not that. I’m fine. What it is is that…” I hesitated, and then I let out a long groan. “Oh, this is going to sound so stupid. I’m…I’m nervous, to go by myself.” Shaking my head, I ignored the loose pieces of hair that began to tumble down into my face. Hells, all the better – they hid the embarrassed flush that had just now spread to my cheeks, and that made me feel uncomfortably warm under the mid-afternoon sun. “I don’t want to get attacked by the brood lineage again, or get lost in the Blind Eternities, or anything like that. I wanted to ask Jace, but he’s always been too busy. Chandra and Sorin are gone, too, off doing who knows what. When I met you, though…” I smiled, despite myself, and tilted my head a little as I met Venser’s questioning gaze. “I was sure that you would help me. Or at least, I hoped so. You said you love to see new places, right…?”
Slowly, a smile of his own began to turn up the corners of the artificer’s lips. “Right. So, when are we leaving?”
For a moment his words didn’t register – and then, a moment after that, their meaning hit me at once. All I could do was blink at him in surprise. “Wait, really?”
Venser laughed. “Yes, of course really! I want to see Zendikar, you need a traveling partner – It’s that simple, isn’t it?” He took my hand, and quick as lightning he pulled me around the corner, into the darkness of the alleyway between the brick building and its neighbor. There was no one around. “We have the whole day. Why don’t we just go right now? I’m sure we can be back to see Jace by the time the sun goes down, and I can follow your aether trail on the way there.” His voice was so earnest, so eager, that I couldn’t help but let out a soft laugh as I stared up into his now wide, bright eyes. Is it really this easy? Is this all it’s going to take?
“Sounds like a plan,” I breathed. I could barely contain my excitement as I closed my eyes and focused my will, calling upon all the mana I could find in the multiverse that would bend to serve me. It came, and it answered my call not in a trickle but a torrent – a heady, intoxicating rush that nearly sent me reeling with the sheer raw power of it. Immediately, I directed that power into my body and Venser’s, and curling, leafy vines began to twine about us from toe to head as I pulled us both into the space between worlds. The last thing I heard before I vanished outright was Venser’s voice, laughing distantly, as if he were someplace very far away.
“Well, looks like you’ve finally figured out how to make a flashy exit!”
And then the streets and buildings and people of Ravnica were all gone.
Last edited by Anaithnid; 08-14-2011 at 08:44 AM.
|08-12-2011, 04:16 PM||#19|
Join Date: Jun 2011
When I stepped out of the Blind Eternities and into existence, I found that I couldn’t see – at least, not for a moment. Something was obscuring my vision.
I coughed and waved a hand in front of my face, and slowly the smoky grey began to clear from my eyes. It took a good full minute until my sight – and my other senses, which were oddly dulled – was restored, but I was willing to wait. A minute was nothing compared to how long I had waited to return home.
When they did, however, every last fiber in my body went numb.
I wondered briefly if something had gone wrong in the planeswalk, if I had taken us somewhere besides Zendikar, somewhere we shouldn’t be – but just as quickly as the thought had occurred, I knew that I was fooling myself. I knew that this was Zendikar, knew it as surely as I knew my own name, that I was Ranewen of the Tajuru – arboromancer, healer, and covert black mage, and now planeswalker errant.
But to my horror, I also now knew that everything was gone.
I was standing in the middle of an expanse of pure and utter nothing – There were no jaddi-trees, no ferns, no flickering fires from where my village’s canopy houses should have hung, high up, a half-mile away. I couldn’t even feel any mana, from anywhere near or for miles and miles in any direction. The land had been drained completely dry.
All that did remain was the earth beneath me, and the sky above. Both looked as if they had been burned several times over until their last vestiges of life were nothing but ashes. Dark clouds roiled over my head, and in the distance there was a growl of thunder.
Venser’s hand was on my shoulder then, and I could hear his voice saying my name, whispering something about how he was so sorry…but I didn’t heed it. I shook him away, roughly, and bolted off at a dead sprint into the emptiness ahead.
I ran. It was all I could think to do. I ran until my legs and lungs burned in unison, then even more until my eyes burned, and my cheeks, and then still more until every part of my body felt as if it were aflame, with Venser’s own footfalls echoing behind me all the while as he tried to keep up. I didn’t care, though. I didn’t stop for even a moment until I had reached the spot where I knew my family’s own jaddi-tree should be, where I had spent nearly every evening of my life cooking dinner with my mother and listening to my father as we all sat by the fire and he told his stories to Amita and I, where we had scattered that same sister’s ashes over the balcony and into the wind one cold dark night as I watched with a heart that felt as heavy and lifeless as stone. I fell to my knees now, staring up at where the jaddi-tree should be and into nothing – into only blackness, into smoke and embers and ash that permeated everything.
It had been a long time since I felt such pain.
Being someone who embraces her emotions freely – each and every one, from the most heart-rending agony to the most uplifting joy – I was used to letting an array of feelings wash over me like a tide, to drown me, to drag me under and swallow me whole in the maw of their depths.
But this…nothing before, nothing, could compare to this.
My senses failed me. Everything else around me melted away into the shuddering violence of my screams, and…spirits, I didn’t know if I was breathing, or if my heart was beating. All I knew was that my body was useless, every muscle that wasn’t trembling swiftly falling limp and leaden. I slumped over across my knees like a dead weight, still screaming. Now I could feel the new sensation of hot tears pouring down my face, to drip off and stain my leggings and the blackened, charred earth beneath them. This isn’t real, I decided, even as my throat began to protest the sounds still erupting from it. This can’t be real. I won’t let it be.
But as I finally sucked in a gasping lungful of air and drew in the stench of pure death, I knew that I had no choice in the matter.
My screaming at last gave way to huge, racking sobs when the pain in my throat made it clear that I could do the former no longer. I didn’t know how long I knelt there like that, but eventually I managed to cry myself hollow – until there was nothing left in me but a hole and a crushing, indescribable ache.
“I…I don’t…understand.” The sound of my voice, so feeble and hoarse, almost startled me. I hadn’t thought I was capable of speaking. “How can this have happened? How..?” I shook my head, disbelief fighting its way to the forefront for just an instant. “This is madness!”
From behind me, Venser’s voice came, so soft that I had to strain to hear it. When I turned to face him I saw that he was standing close, stock still, his eyes wide with his own disbelief. Bright, clear brown had gone murky under its influence.
“I guess this is what we’re fighting,” he whispered. “Total annihilation.”
At the sound of another voice besides my own in what I could no longer call my home, in what was now nothing more than a desolate wasteland, more feelings bubbled up inside of me – Guilt. Anger. They rose into a rolling boil before I could even process them, and forced me to my feet. My legs were not prepared to withstand my weight, however, and so they buckled beneath me, sending me falling to my knees once more. I spoke again. “I shouldn’t have…” As my body sagged, I began to shake my head, back and forth in tune to the rhythm that pounded agonizingly against my skull. “I shouldn’t have left. I could have done something.” I couldn’t stop myself from letting out a quiet sob – but then, what was the use in holding it back at this point? Rage swelled within me, directed at anything and everything, and my voice nearly choked on its own bitterness. “But now everyone is DEAD!
I slammed my fist into the ground with as much physical force as I could muster, and almost instantly a searing pain blossomed and shot its way up my arm. I didn’t care. I couldn’t care less, actually – I welcomed it, and the sting of the blood that now began to drip from my knuckles.
It took me a moment to notice that Venser had come closer to kneel beside me, albeit a few feet away. He had a concerned look in his eyes now but said nothing, merely watching me, giving me space until I was well enough recovered from my shock and from the torrent of emotions that still had me caught up in its eddies. I didn’t think I would be for quite some time, though.
“Somehow…” I murmured, lifting my gaze to meet his own. I couldn’t seem to focus on him. “Somehow I knew this was going to happen. And yet…I didn’t do anything to stop it.” Hurt blossomed as swiftly and as easily as the pain still throbbing in my hand, and I squeezed my eyes shut for a long moment as I fought back more tears. “I could have asked them, asked Jace or Chandra or Sorin or anyone to come back with me before we left for Mirrodin, even though they were all busy, but I…” It was much harder to hold back the tears now, and they welled rebelliously in the corners of my eyes, threatening to spill over if I didn’t stop talking. But it was too late for that. “I did nothing.”
“You did what you thought was best, Ranewen,” Venser replied almost instantly, leaning towards me with a solemn expression. His mouth had hardened into a thin line, though his eyes still held their compassion, their worry. “You couldn’t have beaten them on your own. You knew that. You knew you had to wait for help.” After a moment’s pause, the creases in his brow softened, and the faintest traces of a sad smile lifted the corners of his lips.
“Sometimes,” he said softly, “you just have to run away.”
I said nothing. What was there to say? I wrapped my arms around myself when I finally noticed that I was shivering, partly from the bodily shock, partly from the force of emotion, and partly from the cold winds that ripped intermittently across the barren expanse to lift Venser’s tunic and stab me all the way down to my bone. He noticed, of course, and finally deemed it safe enough to move closer so that he could pull me against him in an embrace. Once his warmth had seeped into me enough to stop my teeth from clattering, I shook my head. I wanted to cry still, but I had run out of tears. All that was left was hurt. Everything hurt, so badly that I couldn’t stand it. “So this is the part where I’m supposed to retreat inside myself and become all distant and unemotional, right?” Instead of choking me this time, the bitterness dripped from my voice like venom. My hands tightened into fists in his tunic, wadding the fabric between shaky fingers.
“Believe me, you wouldn’t be the first.” I could feel the vibrations from his voice all the way down to my feet. Its low, sympathetic rumble was almost calming. “But…that’s not the only option.”
“And what is the other option?” My own voice could do no better than a rasp after all the screaming I had done.
Venser shrugged, and my body rose and fell with his movements. “You could try overly emotional,” he offered.
At that I couldn’t help but look up at him, at his gentle smile and the faintly hopeful gleam in his eyes. They were clear once more, like a lifeline in the ocean of my own personal hell, and for more than a few moments I clung desperately to them. “You’re not alone, you know,” he continued as he met my gaze. One of his hands reached up to stroke my hair. “You have plenty of people you can turn to. You don’t have to hide in yourself.”
I let out an almost-laugh, a stilted, awkward sort of sound that was alien even to me. “Overly emotional does sound like me,” I admitted. But then I remembered where I was, what had happened, what all I had lost, and…I was shaking my head again, burying my face between where my hands clutched at him. I let out a deep sigh that did nothing to carry the weight of the world off my shoulders. “I don’t want to be alone, Venser.” My voice was quieter than I had anticipated. “But it’s…it’s already half-true now. I can’t just pretend that it’s not.”
Tilting my head so that the side of my face rested against his chest, I stared off into the distance without really seeing. “Some part of me had hoped I could come back here once all of this was done and have a happy homecoming, like I had just gone off on a little trip.” When my eyes came back into focus, I immediately shut them, not wanting to see the swathe of destruction that surrounded me. “I guess I’m just naïve for thinking that.”
This time it was Venser’s turn to shake his head. I could feel the slight movement and the exhale of his breath against my hair. “None of us can really come back, Rana.” His voice was somber, and somehow sounded as if he were speaking from far away. “Not after our sparks have ignited. Not once we’ve learned what kind of power has been forced upon us.” His fingers were still enmeshed in my hair, but they had stopped moving. I tilted my head up again when I noticed so that I could look at him, but my heart sank even lower than it already was at the expression of deep sadness that had suddenly overcome his face. I could do nothing except blink in surprise when his gaze – not on me but on something else entirely – hardened, and his free arm tightened around me. His fingers dug ever so slightly into the shoulders of my shirt.
“Things are different for us planeswalkers. Our equals aren’t men and women, but angels and dragons and…monsters. Like these.”
I looked away then, not wanting to see the darkness in his face anymore, not wanting to see anything. Instead I rested my forehead against the hollow in his collarbone and just breathed in the smell of him – warm leather and oil, a mélange of earthy woods, and the faint tang of metal, all mixed with the scent of his own skin – as unique to him as a fingerprint. For some reason unbeknownst to me, it quieted the storm inside my head and heart until it was just a dull roar, nearly insubstantial as the gathering fog. That storm blanketed me still, yes, but for the first time since I had seen the horrors that greeted me here, I felt…calm. I could think without falling prey to the howling assaults of my own grief, could speak without feeling as if each word was sapping my strength. My eyes closed, and for a moment I drifted.
“I wonder if this route is better, then,” I spoke, barely above a whisper. “To have your bridges burned for you, so you don't have to hang onto something you know will never really be yours again.” New tears at last loosed themselves, though silently. As they fell, my voice broke.
“It doesn’t feel like it now, though. That’s for sure.”
Venser took a few moments to respond, and when he did, his voice was hardly louder than mine.
“No…there’s always something more you can’t have. That doesn’t change.”
Despite myself, I felt a chuckle rise in my throat, past the lump that always formed whenever I cried. It wasn’t of humor, or even of bitterness – I didn’t quite know what it was, in fact, only that the impulse took over me and I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t move my head from where it was, still not wanting to look at him. “Like what?” I asked. My voice came out muffled from against his chest. What more could I have possibly wanted than home?
His breath hitched, and I could feel it. There was a long pause. “That’s…too personal.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. So for the second time that day, I didn’t say anything.
We remained just like that for a while, his arms wrapped around me and mine still fisted in his tunic. As the seconds passed, my grip continued to loosen, and it eventually fell away entirely. I couldn’t bring myself to lift my arms and hug him back, though I didn’t want to break the embrace either. It was comforting, and without it I don’t think I would have made it out of this – I didn’t want to call it a situation, because that word seemed too casual, too impersonal, but it was all my torn mind could think of at the moment – situation alright. But as it was, I was finally beginning to feel calm enough to push things aside, at least for now. Later was a different story. But now…now, at least everything had gone numb, like that blissfully agonizing moment when I had first arrived.
“I…don’t know what to do.”
Hearing my words, Venser made the decision for me and stood. He pulled me up with him effortlessly, hands lingering on my shoulders to steady me when, sure enough, I wobbled. Once he was sure that I could remain standing on my own, though, he stepped back to a normal walking distance and fixed me with a melancholy smile.
“I think it’s time to go.”
My heart twisted a little at the thought of leaving Zendikar behind, but…when I forced myself to turn and look around me one last time, I realized that there really wasn’t any reason for me to be here. Not yet. Until I could return with as many planeswalkers as our little ragtag group could muster, intent on fighting to the death and not looking back for anything, my place was elsewhere. Where specifically, I didn’t know. Ravnica. Mirrodin, maybe. Honestly, it didn’t matter – So long as I did whatever I needed to do in order to help bring the Eldrazi down, I could be living in the filthiest, most crime-ridden city slums, for all I cared. My hands shook now as I clenched them into fists at my side, and as I stared beyond the ruins of what had once been my world to the looming outlines of the creatures that lay far beyond in the distance, I felt thick, hot hate rise in my chest. It blocked out everything else, all my pain and disbelief and sorrow, and for a moment my vision went red at the edges.
“I will kill you,” I whispered, “all of you. No matter what it takes.”
And with that I turned to take Venser’s outstretched hand, and a sheen of golden light flared around our bodies as he planeswalked us both away.
When we were both safely back in the Consortium compound, Venser took me up to my room and encouraged me to get some rest. He said that he needed to return to Mirrodin for the evening so that he could inform Vincenius of everything that had happened, that he thought the mer commander would like to know, that he would be back the next morning to explain everything to Jace, he swore on his heart. I hadn’t put up a word in protest, and so without further ado he had left. Thus I found myself alone, and also at a complete loss as to what to do.
I was exhausted, but I didn’t think I would be able to sleep. Sunset was nearing – the first tinges of red and purple were visible at the edges of what sky I could see between the buildings outside my window – but I didn’t want to talk to Jace. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, really. Venser had said that he would take care of things tomorrow, and I planned to take him up on that offer.
After a time, I finally decided that my best possible course of action would be to drink until I passed out.
I crept down into the common room and had the golem bartender – whose name I would have to remember to get, when I was less inclined to make myself forget as many of the day’s events as possible – procure me a bottle of rich, aged red wine and a gleaming crystal glass to go with it, both of which I carried snugly under my arm as I hurried back up the stairs.
Apparently I was in such a hurry that I had forgotten to shut my door, because just as I was about to pour myself a third glass, a familiar face poked its way into the room.
I gave a start, and had to catch the wine bottle before it could tilt too far and spill all over my sheets. Fortunately, my reflexes hadn’t yet been affected by the alcohol – just my emotions. Or maybe it wasn’t the alcohol at all, maybe it was just because I had recently found out that everyone I knew and loved was dead. Either or.
“Jace.” My voice came out as bitter as it had been earlier, back in Zendikar. I could feel anger swelling in me as he stepped fully into the room and I looked at him. Why didn’t he stop to think about me? His eyes widened in concern when he saw the expression on my face, but that only incensed me even more. Was what he had to do so important that he couldn’t have warned me before we left about what might happen? That I would be leaving everyone behind to die? My fingers tightened around the stem of my glass, and they shook. Was he so busy that he couldn’t stop for one minute to take me back, and help save everyone’s lives before it was too late?
I gritted my teeth, and suddenly, before I could compose myself, I felt tears stinging their way down my cheeks. “I thought you should know that the Eldrazi are progressing further on Zendikar than we had originally expected.”
For a moment Jace just looked confused, bewildered even – and then, at once, he understood. He rushed over to sit beside me on the bed, taking the wine bottle and empty glass from my hands before I had a chance to react, and putting them aside.
“This is what I was afraid of,” he whispered. He took one of my hands in both of his and stared directly into my eyes. “Ranewen, I’m so sorry.”
The sincerity of the grief in his gaze caught me off guard. I almost believed him, believed that he hadn’t anticipated this, that he was sorry…My anger faltered, and I allowed him to continue holding my hand instead of brushing him away. Still though, I couldn’t hold my tongue. “Sorry for what? You could have prevented this at any time. This didn’t have to happen.”
Jace closed his eyes, let out a deep breath, and shook his head. I tried to convince myself that he didn’t look profoundly sad, but it wasn’t working. “No, I couldn’t have. There was nothing any of us could have done, not even if we had tried the day we found you.”
My eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…” he hesitated, and then slowly lifted his blue eyes to settle on mine. “…that the brood lineage had probably already reached your village by the time that squadron attacked you. They travel fast, and they…” He shook his head again. “...they…consume things even faster. The only way to save anyone would have been to take them through the Blind Eternities, which no planeswalker has been able to do with a mortal since the Mending. There was no way anyone could flee on foot fast enough.”
I opened my mouth, then just as quickly snapped it shut. For a moment, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “So you…you knew, this whole time?” Now I shook my head. I could feel an incredulous laugh building in my throat. “You knew, and you didn’t tell me?”
Jace smiled, without mirth. “If you were in my place, would you have wanted to?” After a moment his shoulders sagged, and in the span of a few seconds his expression grew very, very tired. “Besides, I…wasn’t even sure. I thought…I hoped that there was some chance, however small.”
My vision began to blur with tears then as the full realization hit me – If what Jace just said was true, then everyone had been doomed from the start. There was nothing that I…any of us, could have done. Nothing. Destiny, fate, whatever in the nine hells people liked to call it, had come that day to take its toll, and it hadn’t been in the mood to delay its journey.
“No,” I breathed, and the voice that I heard wasn’t mine but someone else’s – a frightened little girl’s voice, small and confused and helpless. “No, no…” I felt my head dropping onto my chest. It took every shred of willpower I had to keep myself from crying. I can’t. I won’t. No more. I have to be strong…
“I’m so sorry,” Jace said again. He squeezed my hand, and somewhere in the haze of my mind I realized that his were shaking. There was a long pause. “If you need to talk to anyone, I’m here. My situation is vastly different from yours, of course, but I…know what it’s like. To feel betrayed. To lose someone.”
The hollow ring to his voice pulled my head up, and my gaze to his. He didn’t look back at me, though – He was staring straight ahead at the closet door, as intently as if he knew it were going to spring to life any second. I looked away. My gaze instead settled on my lap, where he still held my hand in a tight grip. “What happened?”
A minute passed before he answered, and when he did his voice was as soft as I had ever heard it. “I…” He sighed, heavily. “I put my trust in the wrong person. More than that, I loved her. Stupid as I was. She took everything from me, everything that mattered. My home, my friends…Kallist…” He squeezed my hand so hard that I winced. “Ah.” He had noticed. “Sorry. But…anyway, you don’t want to hear it.” He scowled, seemingly at himself. “It’s going to make me sound like a pathetic little child, especially after what just happened to you.”
I shook my head. I hadn’t been expecting him to open up so suddenly, and as dour as the subject matter was, it was a welcome distraction. “No, Jace, tell me.”
But he shook his head too. “I…no, Ranewen, I can’t tell the whole thing. Not right now. I’m sorry I mentioned it. Maybe later, but…”
“Jace.” I stared at him until he finally looked up at me, but as soon as he did I knew that even then he wasn’t going to relent. Apparently, this really was something that haunted him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and smiled faintly as he stood and pulled his hands from mine, “but I need to clear my head if I want to have any hope of discussing that subject rationally. When I do, though, I promise I’ll let you know.”
“What, so you’re just going to leave?” I knew it was a selfish thing to say, but I had blurted it out before I could think. I had realized that he was going to go off and do whatever important planeswalker-Consortium-whatever business he needed to do, and I didn’t want him to go. Not now. Just a short while ago I had wanted to be alone, but now that I had started talking, now that I had cracked the veneer of brooding solitude I had built up around myself…I wanted him to stay. Needed him to.
“If you want a chance at getting revenge on the Eldrazi,” he said then, and the quiet force behind his words gave me pause, “then yes. I need to go. If you want some company, you know where my office is. I can’t guarantee I’ll make fantastic conversation while I’m poring over my reports, but…” He smiled again. “…my door is always open to you.”
And with that he left, and I was once again alone with nothing but my own thoughts – and this time, too, a half-empty bottle of wine.
Last edited by Anaithnid; 08-12-2011 at 06:02 PM.
|08-13-2011, 06:42 PM||#20|
Join Date: Mar 2010
If I may say so, this is very good. Like, really, really good. After the...less then steller writing of the latest block novels, this provides a nice change of pace. It feels more professional then the professionals, at least thus far. I'm gonna be keeping an eye on this. Great work so far.
Last edited by Dark Fire; 08-13-2011 at 09:19 PM.
|08-13-2011, 07:05 PM||#21|
Join Date: Jun 2011
Ahhh, goodness gracious, wow! Thank you! I'm blushing now...haha.
I agree with you about the latest novels. I'm a huge, huge fan of the storyline - both pre-Mending and post - but recently I've found myself a little disappointed in the quality of the writing (except the Planeswalker novels, because Agents of Artifice, Test of Metal, and The Purifying Fire were FANTASTIC.). Here's hoping for Innistrad, right?
Seriously though, thank you. It perpetually amazes me that people are not only reading my work, but enjoying it too. Please feel free to share any feedback you have any time, because I'd love to hear it!
Last edited by Anaithnid; 08-13-2011 at 09:25 PM.
|08-13-2011, 09:39 PM||#22|
Join Date: Mar 2010
I agree with the Planeswalker novels (I have a soft spot for ToM). I find the characters you've created are interesting, and more importantly, they're likeable. I find myself caring about the lead, and her journey. I'll be honest and say i was terrified when Sheoldred showed up...I thought things were gonna get really bad for her...like Crovax vs. Tsabo Tavoc bad.
The only part I like more is how well you treat the actual characters. I'd actually love to see you handle Bolas. I have no doubt you'd do better then most of his other apperances lately. Koth and Venser were surperbly handled, and I actually liked Jace. And I hate his guts normally, so, great job there.
I haven't found anything that makes me dislike this. So far, if this was a published novel, and I had to chose between it and Zendikar's...I'd pick yours no question. I can't wait for the next chapters. And yes, I mean that.
|08-13-2011, 10:59 PM||#23|
Join Date: Jun 2011
Sir (or madam), I hope you know that you've made my day. Not exaggerating.
I'm so, so glad that you like Ranewen - It's difficult to strike a balance when I write, because I want her to be a confident, able-to-take-care-of-herself woman who is allowed to show her weaknesses (and to just be a woman, sometimes), but I don't want her to be overpowered or needy. Looks like I must be doing something right, if I have your seal of approval!
Jace...Oh, Jace. I think that in pretty much everything except Agents of Artifice, he's been overexposed to the point of HOLY CRAP I WANT TO THROTTLE HIM. In the book, to me, Ari Marmell did a great job of bringing him down to our level, so that we can see him for once as a regular guy (as much as a planeswalker can be, haha) with flaws, the same as everyone else. I tried to channel that into this version of him. Venser is easy (he's one of my favorites), and Koth is even easier, but as far as Jace goes...I hope I can keep his persona going, I really do. Some days he's easier to write than others, but I always try!
Bolas? MUAHAHAH---Er, *ahem*. Sorry. Carry on. I'll just say thank you again for the kind words, and duck out before I talk you to death...or get a little too excited about a certain elder dragon.
But really, it's comments like yours that keep me going.
Last edited by Anaithnid; 01-31-2013 at 11:58 PM.
|08-14-2011, 01:42 PM||#24|
Join Date: Mar 2010
I'm over-joyed to hear that (and I am a sir lol). I found that you actually used the Preators, ala Sheoldred, an incredable increase over QfK...where the most we got was Glissa. The way you've handled Chandra, Sorin, and others only makes me want to see Tezzerat, Sarkhan, Bolas...maybe even Karn . But the point I really have to state is that I really wish Ranewen would be made into a full character. Anyway, I'm gonna stop here before I devolve into inane rambling lol. Keep it up, and I look forward to more.
|08-23-2011, 10:10 PM||#25|
Join Date: Jun 2011
A/N: Yeesh. Sorry this chapter took so long to get posted, but I just moved into a new place. It's been a busy week.
By the time I woke up the next day, it was mid-afternoon.
My head hurt even worse than it had the morning after my dinner with Venser. I knew that lying around in bed all day wouldn’t do me any good, though, so I just grit my teeth and bore it as I rolled to one side – and accidentally off the bed, dragging several sheets with me. I groaned when I hit the floor.
Eventually, I managed to struggle myself into an ankle-length green dress (another gift from most likely Chandra), and tied on a pair of laced brown sandals (yet another gift – It seemed like my mysterious benefactor had made it a personal goal to attend to my distinct lack of a wardrobe). When I saw my reflection in the mirror, I did have to admit that I looked nice…even nicer when I took a few minutes to tease the bedhead from my hair, which was not an easy task. When all was said and done, I couldn’t help but smile. Feeling pretty wasn’t something that I ordinarily concerned myself with, let alone something that I savored – but today, it managed to cheer me up, just a little. Perhaps my recovery from all that had happened wouldn’t be in giant leaps, but in baby steps. Perhaps this was the first of many.
Ignoring the pounding that assaulted my ears every time I moved, I descended the stairs to the common room. I could hear several voices from the top landing – one of them unfamiliar – but once I stepped into view the noise died down in an instant. Five pairs of eyes made their way to me, and the only response I could muster was to blink back at them, and to shift awkwardly.
Jace and Venser sat on two couches flanking a little table, and across from them Sorin lounged in the large, plush armchair, looking as content and comfortable as the housecats I had seen humans keep. My heart leapt when I saw Chandra, sitting up straight on another couch with her hands folded in her lap – but just as quickly as she had drawn my gaze, it alighted on the man sitting next to her. He was tall, broad – a warrior’s build, and clad in a warrior’s heavy blue-and-silver armor – and had thick black hair so long that he had tied it in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. At his belt, a strange whiplike weapon gleamed. When I met his steel-blue gaze he stood, smoothly, and bowed at the waist.
“Ranewen of the Tajuru,” he said. His voice reminded me of Vincenius’s, deep and resounding and commanding. His, however, was more gravelly, and it had all of the solemnity and none of the mirth. “My name is Gideon Jura. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, though I would also like to express my deepest sympathies as to the loss of your home. I imagine this is not an easy time for you.”
Behind him, Chandra and Venser winced. Jace lowered his eyes. Sorin yawned.
I was tempted at first to correct Gideon, to tell him that I was no longer Ranewen of the Tajuru and instead just Ranewen, but it was a momentary impulse…and anyway, I knew it wasn’t true. Despite the fact that my tribe was gone, they were just as much a part of me as they had always been, and they always would be. Besides, Gideon hadn’t seemed to have meant any harm by the statement. I took a slow, deep breath, and allowed my brief bitterness to pass.
“You guys don’t need to walk on eggshells around me, you know,” I sighed, letting out the breath in an equally deep exhale. I met Gideon’s gaze again, and nodded to him and smiled politely. It took effort, but I did it nonetheless. “It’s good to meet you, Gideon. I appreciate your kind words.”
He nodded too before sitting back down beside Chandra. I couldn’t help noticing the look she shot him then, and the swiftness with which he returned it. Very suddenly, and despite myself, I had to stifle a grin.
“We found him making his way here to the compound on our way back,” Sorin broke in, his voice coming low and languid from the cushioned depths of his armchair. His yellow eyes – still eerie after all this time – met mine, and he paused. “Well, she found him. I just got the information out of him. Apparently he’s met the Eldrazi in person and lived to tell the tale, and such a fateful encounter motivated him to come find the Infinite Consortium and petition us for help.” He shrugged. “Pretty convenient, wouldn’t you say?”
“Very convenient,” Jace muttered. He was eyeing Gideon from beneath his ever-present hood, but he looked more curious than suspicious.
There was a moment’s pause. “You’re welcome to sit down, Rana.” Venser’s voice was quiet when he spoke, and when I turned to face him he patted the cushion at his side with a hesitant smile. Once I had come to sit next to him I returned that smile warmly, and his face took on a look of relief.
“Gideon, you’re sure about wanting to do this?” Chandra was looking at the warrior full-on now, and with an expression of open dismay. It was a good cover for the way her hands twitched on her lap, so close to his own, and for the hint of joy you could see hidden behind her narrowed eyes – that is, if you looked closely enough. Which I did.
Gideon shook his head, and I saw his own hand twitch. Like Koth, he was remarkably good at keeping his face impassive. “You are, aren’t you? So why can’t I?”
“Because…” She faltered, and her gaze dropped down to her lap. “Well, because you got dragged into this because of me. You would have never even heard about Zendikar if it wasn’t for me, and the scroll, and…” She shook her head now too. “I just don’t want you throwing yourself into the middle of this huge conflict because you feel like it’s your responsibility or something.”
“It is my responsibility.” The only time a flicker of an expression crossed Gideon’s face was when he looked at Chandra – for a half-second, I caught an odd mixture of frustration and compassion. “These beings are threatening the order of the entire multiverse, and even if I’ve renounced my devotion to the Order of Heliud, that doesn’t change who I am. And I’m not the type of man to stand by when I can do something to help, especially when people I care about are in danger.” From the grin that spread across Sorin’s face – out of Gideon or Chandra’s line of sight, thankfully – I was sure that I wasn’t the only one who had caught Gideon’s pointedly affectionate look. Chandra’s response to it was to blush, which cemented my certainty.
“I…guess there’s nothing I can do but stop worrying about it, huh?” was all she could say. Softly, at that.
Before the two could make eyes at each other any longer, Sorin sighed and leaned forward in his chair. All traces of his previous grin were gone from his lips. “So that settles it, then.” His voice was suddenly cold. “Gideon stays with us, so long as he provides the assistance he is so eager to give. And you, Jace, you can stop your nonsensical worrying as to my…contributions, to this group.” He stood, his own elegantly embroidered cloak flowing around him like water, and flashed the mage a look that seemed to be saying a rather irritated ‘I told you so.’ With that, he turned his back to the room. “I’ll be in my chambers if anyone finds themselves needing me. Which, as always, I don’t suspect.” He strode out through a side door, head held high and boots clicking against the wood as he went. Before he disappeared, though, I noticed that he had a new longsword – even more ornate than the first one, with swirls and vines and other intricate patterns decorating both its hilt and its sheath. Then he was gone, and I had no more time to appreciate it.
“He’s not in the best of moods, is he?”
Venser’s humor was met with a grunt from Jace, who was resting his elbow on the arm of the couch and his chin in his hand. He looked sullen. “He never is. You’ll get used to it, if you hang around here long enough.”
“I think he’s mad at you, Jace,” Chandra corrected. Her voice had returned to its normal, half-flippant tone, instead of the girlish sigh that she had taken on when talking to Gideon. Her gaze shifted from Jace to me and then back to Jace, and the brief grin she sent my way lifted my spirits. “What, are you two arguing again? You seriously need to stop pissing each other off, or we’re never going to get anything done around here.”
“I know how to handle him.” But Jace didn’t sound so sure – more than anything, he sounded tired. I sympathized.
“Well, if we’re not going to continue this conversation, can I…uh…go? I want to talk to Rana.”
Hearing my name, my ears pricked up. I did want to talk to Chandra a great deal, but if we had important things still to discuss…
But Jace nodded. “Yeah, go ahead. I need to talk to you two – ” he gestured at Gideon and Venser with a wave of his arm, “ – anyway. I’ll let you know if we need either of you again.”
Throwing Gideon one last sidelong glance, Chandra stood, and made her way over to my couch. She stopped in front of me and offered a hand. The smile she wore was a welcome sight.
“Come on, missy. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
Venser smiled at me as I took her hand and stood, and as we made our way over to the stairs I thought I caught Jace’s blue eyes on me as well. Before I had time to analyze his expression, though, we were bounding up the steps – I had forgotten to let go of Chandra’s hand – and hurrying down the hall toward her bedroom, so fast that I found myself flushed and out of breath.
“So,” the pyromancer said, “tell me everything.”
And I did. We had settled down into the two chairs in front of her fireplace – the dominant fixture in her room, and a terribly appropriate one at that – and she, in turn, leaned forward to listen as I talked myself hoarse. It took quite awhile for me to explain it all. I had to stop briefly to compose myself when I got to the parts both about Elspeth and about the Eldrazi, but Chandra was an attentive and sympathetic audience. She reached out to hold my hand at those difficult moments, and once they had passed she sat right back, hands folded over her knees and eyes wide, and simply let me talk. The openness of the expression on her face gave me some small measure of comfort. Once I had finished, I sank back into my own chair and sighed. It wasn’t as cushy as the furniture downstairs, but it was something.
“Do you really think we have a chance?” I had been trying not to let my negative emotions get the best of me, but after recounting the tale of everything that had happened, it was hard to hold them back. I shook my head, slowly. “They just…obliterated my home. Completely. Mana and all. How can even fifty planeswalkers hold their own against them, much less, what…eight? We have eight. Against three giant demons, and their armies of hellspawn.”
“Hey, don’t think like that!” I looked up sharply at the sound of her voice, and when I did I was surprised at how…alight Chandra’s eyes were. Isn’t this supposed to be a somber topic? She clucked her tongue chastisingly, and shook her head. “You’re supposed to be little miss cheery, right? So act it! We need your optimism, Rana, even if it’s a little, uh…misplaced, sometimes. I overheard Jace talking about how you barreled straight ahead on Mirrodin, and I mean, come on! Look at where that got you! You saved Elspeth’s life!” I blinked as she bent forward and grabbed my hand again, lifting it to her eye level. “Yeah, the Eldrazi are insanely powerful. Yeah, they’ve already done a ton of damage, and are probably going to do a ton more. But us planeswalkers aren’t so bad ourselves! You’ve only seen a few small battles – You haven’t seen us really in action. Maybe then you’ll change your mind, huh?”
I shrugged. It was hard to be morose when you had a bright-eyed, beaming redhead staring you in the face, and damn it all if I didn’t feel a smile coming on. “Maybe. Do I want to, though? I think I’d be nervous about getting caught up in the crossfire.”
Chandra giggled and shook her head again. “No, trust me, you want to. They can get a little dangerous, but…if you’re not one of the combatants, why the hells not? Real planeswalker duels are exciting to watch.”
Gently, I took my hand from hers, and rested it on her knee. I chuckled. “Maybe for you, but I think I’ll pass on that offer. I’d rather keep my mortal body intact, thank you very much.”
Chandra rolled her eyes and swatted my leg. “Oh, you’re no fun.”
“Ow! Hey!” I winced. That stung. “Me? You’re the one who’s no fun, not telling me about this new arrival of ours. You both were staring like you were going to eat each other.”
Chandra’s newly red face took on an indignant expression then, but she couldn’t help letting out a snort of laughter. Nervous laughter, from the sound of it. “What, Gideon? We…we’ve known each other a long time, that’s all. I met him on Kephalai, and we helped each other out on Diraden---”
“Oh, save it, Chandra. I’ve seen those looks plenty. I’ve given and gotten them a few times, too – Hells, I probably give them to Jace whenever he walks in the room.” I giggled, and cocked a teasing eyebrow. Now I could feel the blush creeping into my own cheeks at the mention of Jace, but my point had been made, and that was that. “You two have a thing, and everyone who was in that room knows it. So stop trying to hide it and just spill!”
There was a long pause, then a long sigh, then a huff and a folding of arms across chest, and then finally Chandra relented. “Damn you, Rana.” I could see the smile tugging at the corners of her lips, though, and I knew that she wouldn’t be able to stall it for very long. “Alright, fine. I…like him. A lot. I liked him before, but he and I parted ways awhile back on bad terms, and I thought that was enough to make me forget about him.” Her voice softened a little, though I would put gold on the fact that she hadn’t meant it to. “Well, it wasn’t. I couldn’t keep him off my mind, and when I saw him on the streets today, it was like…” She held her hands out in front of her, palms up. Her hair swayed into her face as she shook her head. “I don’t know, it was like a…a dream, almost. Everything slowed down, and my legs just started running toward him without me even knowing it.” Her hands fell limply into her lap. “He told me that he followed me to Zendikar. Because he was worried about me. He’s changed since we last met, too – He denounced the order that he used to belong to, and took advantage of the chaos I left it in to reform it and make it less oppressive. He did everything that I thought he wouldn’t. And now I have no clue what I’m supposed to do.” She laughed, quietly, and the mingled emotions in her eyes sent a jolt of something straight to my heart.
Before I knew what was going on, and before I could stop myself, I was leaning forward to hug her.
“You’re supposed to enjoy your time with him while you still have it,” I said, just as quietly. I could feel her body stiffen in surprise at my sudden embrace, but she quickly relaxed, and her arms tentatively reached up to wrap around me and pat me on the back. When I kept going, my voice came out muffled from against her shoulder. “You were right, you know.”
“About what?” Chandra sounded puzzled. Understandably so, considering how I had just tackled her. Still though, the gesture didn’t seem like it had been unwelcome.
“About holding onto that optimism of mine. Venser told me that yesterday, and you’re telling me it now. There’s too many things for me to do for me to keep getting all…down like this, you know?” I pulled away and hesitated, finding her reddish-brown eyes with my own. “For instance, you getting to be with someone you care about. I can’t be selfish. Yes, I have to avenge my tribe, but…there are people still living that I can fight for, too. Aren’t there?”
Chandra opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. She tilted her head as she regarded me. “I…Rana, I…”
I shook my head. “No, it’s the truth. I need to keep my chin up. Maybe I still haven’t really accepted it, but…” I smiled, and shrugged. “...you guys all seem to need my help. Or at least appreciate it. And if I can do even just one more thing for you all that matters, then, well,” I stood up, stepping away from the chair and closer to the door, and I saw Chandra’s eyes follow me there. “I’ll be happy.”
“Where are you going?” she asked. Her voice was still quiet, and she hadn’t risen from her chair. She looked even more puzzled than she had sounded before.
At that my smile widened, and I reached out to place a hand on the doorknob. “To see Sorin. He knows the most about the Eldrazi out of all of us, so if I want to learn things and help out more around here, I figure he’s the best place to start, right?”
But I didn’t give Chandra a chance to respond – I was in determined mode, and nothing was going to delay me now that I had my heart set on a goal. I flashed her a grin before she could open her mouth to speak, and then I pulled the door open, stepped over the threshold, and shut it with a tight click behind me.
“You could try overly emotional,” Venser had said. Well, here I was, giving it a shot. And already I felt better.
With purpose, I strode my way down the hall and to the stairs.
It took me awhile to find Sorin’s chambers, but with a little direction from a passing guard, I finally did.
His room was large and long, with windows as big as those in the common room, and twice as many bookshelves. There was a couch across from his four-poster bed, facing his fireplace – bigger than Chandra’s by half – and there he sat, legs crossed over one another and a book in his hand. He didn’t respond when I knocked on the open door, or look up when I entered. Only when I was halfway across the room toward him did he say anything.
“And what business could you possibly have with me, kitten?”
“Kitten?” I stopped. I probably shouldn’t have even acknowledged the nickname, but the oddness of it forced my tongue into motion. When I resumed my walking and came to stand in front of him, I planted my hands on my hips. “What, is that your way of declaring affection?”
“Hardly. You’re a tiny mewling thing who’s just now whetting her little claws and teeth, and until then, you need the help of your betters to keep you safe. Hence, kitten. Now what do you want?”
The nonchalance of his tone and the way he still didn’t look up from his book – not even counting what he had just said – infuriated me. I clenched my fists at my sides, and took a deep, steadying breath. “I want,” I said, calmly as I could manage, “for you to help me, if that’s at all possible.”
“Help you?” Finally Sorin looked up, though only briefly. He brushed aside a lock of powder-white hair from his eyes, met my gaze, and chuckled. A condescending sound. “Interesting. And what assistance do you think I can provide, then? Transformation into a vampire? If that’s the case, then I can certainly help you.”
I gulped. The darkness that had slipped into his voice crawled across my skin, and the way he was now grinning at me, baring his gleaming fangs, sent chills down my spine. Relax, Rana. Relax. He can probably smell fear…or something like that. “No. That’s, uh, definitely not it.” I shook my head, and slowly, I lowered myself down onto the couch beside him. His eyes never left me as I did. “I wanted to ask you about the Eldrazi. I...I want to know what I’m facing. If I want to make any difference at all in this…thing we’re starting, then I need to know all that you know. Everything.” I steeled my gaze when I turned to look at him, and clasped my hands together tightly in my lap.
But Sorin merely laughed. Suddenly, I was aware of how attractive the sound was as it vibrated through me, from my head to my toes along my nerves, like fire. I found myself staring into those yellow eyes of his, flecked with smoky grey, longer than I should have, longer than I knew was safe – and then half a second later he was just there, right in front of me. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t, not even as my heart began to race and something inside of my head screamed frantically. My body recoiled as he bent low over me, his hands gripping the arm of the couch on either side of my head. I felt myself bump into something solid then, and I couldn’t back away any further.
“Give me a reason why I should tell you,” he growled, “and we’ll see.” I could feel the warmth of his breath on my face like a thing alive. His lips were mere inches away from my own, but the mixture of lust and terror that I felt now paralyzed me. I couldn’t move. I knew that he was trying the same trick from before back on Zendikar, but that knowledge wasn’t enough to stop his…magic? Was this magic? Or something else? Whatever it was, knowing that he was doing it didn’t help me in the least. If anything, it only made me more panicked – and now I was sure that he could see my pulse fluttering in my neck, or hear my heartbeat as loudly as I did. S***. S***.
“N---” I tried to speak, but my mouth felt like it had gone numb. It was a struggle to make my lips form words. “N-No…” He was so close to me now that I could feel the brush of his cloak against my sides, featherlight, and the tickle of his hair as it fell down around his face and mine. I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to stab him. I cursed myself silently for not having my hunting knife on me, but I was wearing a dress, and I hadn’t thought to strap the damn thing to my thigh. Not in the compound. I was supposed to be safe here.
“Come now, Ranewen, I’m waiting.” I could almost feel his lips as they moved, and the sensation turned my blood to ice. His voice was low, deep, dark, smooth as silk and so utterly intoxicating…
The second I flashed back to the moment when I had broken away from him before, I repeated the motion. My hands pushed against his breastplate in a shove, hard as I could muster, and it forced him to sit back heavily on his knees. I curled against the arm of the couch, breathing hard. My legs came up to my chest. I hugged them tightly.
“Damn you, Sorin,” I croaked. “I’m not your little plaything. Stop doing that to me!”
But all the vampire could do was shrug. He pursed his lips and widened his eyes, giving his face a sickeningly innocent expression that made my blood boil. “What? I was simply asking for you to give me a reason. I’m not going to help you for nothing, you know.”
“That’s a lie,” I hissed. My arms came up to fold over my breasts protectively, and I took a deep breath in an attempt to quell my shaking. “You were trying to get something from me that I’m not willing to give. Just because you can have your choice of whatever women you want here in Ravnica doesn’t mean that you can just try to…to take me, like that. I’m not like them.” My face reddened.
At this Sorin barked a harsh laugh, and he leaned forward again, toward me, which sent me scooting as far away from him as I possibly could. It wasn’t much, though, since his body blocked me from climbing off the couch, and I was already backed into a corner. “Ah, kitten, didn’t I tell you before not to get a swelled head?” His brow arched imperiously. “Just because you have a pair or two of eyes on you doesn’t mean that everyone wants a piece. You’re just a backwoods elf girl who was lucky enough to be born with the spark. I’ve met plenty of women who are far more attractive than you, far more…interesting.” Before I had time to be offended by the comment, he reached his hand out to caress my cheek. I flinched. “No, the only part of you I want…” he trailed his fingertips to my jawline and down the length of my exposed throat, “…is this. But unless you give it to me willingly, then there’s nothing I can do. Beleren sleeps with one eye trained on me already, and if I do anything to hurt his pretty little pet, then I’ll never hear the end of it.” I made a small strangled noise and moved to slap his hand away from me, but he drew it back before I could. My attempt seemed to amuse him, and he chuckled. “The only thing keeping me here in this fine company is my knowledge of the Eldrazi, and if I give that to you, then I’m as good as useless to them. They may respect me, but they don’t trust me in the least. I know. I see it in their eyes every time I look at them. Powerful as I may be, no one wants to work with a vampire.” In different circumstances I might have felt sorry for him then, sympathized with his now-bitter tone or with the strained look that passed across his face for an instant – But no, not today. Not after what he had tried to do, or what he had said.
“So there’s nothing I can do, then.” I took advantage of the fact that Sorin had straightened up as he spoke last, and hastily stood up off of the couch. I smoothed my dress with both hands. “There’s no way I’m going to get any information out of you, unless I want to turn undead and lose my free will. That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps.” Sorin relaxed into the cushions, stretching his legs out now that I was gone. “Or perhaps I would be willing to part with some information, for the right price.”
Some information. What did he mean by that? And for that matter, what in the world could he possibly be willing to take from me, if not my life? I thought for a long moment, staring past him and out the window beside his bed, and then at once an idea came to me. I turned back to him, eyes wide. “Sorin. I learned some unique spells from spending time in the swamps of Zendikar, awhile ago. You use black magic, right?”
He scoffed and folded his hands behind his head. “You think that any of your wild, unrefined tricks would be useful to me? You’re even more foolish than I thought.”
I let my breath out in a huff. “Yes, I think my magic would be plenty useful to you. My rifts helped best you in combat before, didn’t they? I have more than that, too. I have all kinds of spells known only to the people who live around the swamps, or the travelers who brave them. I would teach you every single one if you just…told me something. Anything.” I did my best to put aside my anger – momentarily, of course – and gave Sorin my sweetest, most entreating look. “Please? Come on, you have to say yes. Let me try, just this once.”
Sorin chuckled again, but from the look in his eyes I knew I had won. A wry grin curled his lips as he pushed himself upright and onto his feet in one swift motion, and then he sauntered his way over to me, hand darting out lightning-quick to seize my arm. I froze. My eyes stared up into his, and my mouth dropped open to say something that my brain never quite formulated.
“Well then. If you truly want to prove to me how powerful your spells are, then test them against me now…alone. No dashing blue-eyed hero to swoop in and save you, no handicaps, no nothing.” His grin widened into something wicked. “Just you, and me. That’s my final offer. Take it or leave it.”
It took me a moment or two to recover from that brief, horrible instant where I thought he was going to turn me then and there, but when I had cleared my head, I straightened my shoulders and stood tall. Sorin’s hand still gripped my arm, but I tried to ignore the almost painful pressure. “Fine. I accept your offer.” However stupid this choice might end up being, I knew that it was the best chance I had right now. I would accept whatever consequences it brought later.
Sorin’s grin widened even further, and my heart began to beat double-time when I saw that his fangs were now on full, menacing display. “Good. Then let’s take this somewhere where we won’t be disturbed, shall we?”
Before I could ask him where in the nine hells he intended to go, his free hand molded the fabric of reality into a liquid, dripping portal, and he pulled me inside for a dizzying rush of a journey through the Blind Eternities.
Last edited by Anaithnid; 01-31-2013 at 11:58 PM.
|08-24-2011, 04:29 PM||#26|
Join Date: Mar 2010
This is truely a good day. First, the excellent Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad, then the next chapter in my new favorite Fan-Fic!
This one really shows how immortality can make a guy like Sorin a monster. And the thing is, its really believeable. He has every reason to act like that. And as the favor text tends to show...he is a vindictive fellow.
Great chapter, and I eagerly await the next.
|08-24-2011, 04:52 PM||#27|
Join Date: Jun 2011
Why thank you! I'm glad you like the way I portrayed Sorin. He was so ridiculously much fun to write - and what's better, I'm not even close to done with him yet.
Man, INNISTRAD! I blew through the Planeswalker's Guide a couple hours ago, and now I'm pumped. I love the fantasy-Victorian setting. I have a special fondness for Kessig in particular, or at least so far.
|08-25-2011, 05:44 AM||#28|
Join Date: Mar 2010
I know right? Innistrad is looking great so far.
There is one thing I forgot to talk about last time though. Gideon Jura. Sweet Urza's eyes, you need to get hired with Wizards. I have no problem at all hearing Gideon's voice throughout this chapter. You nailed it. The reaction Chandra would give seemed consistent, given what we know about the two of them.
This was really, really good. I may have said it already, but if you ever had a novel with Wizards, I'm buying day one. Excellently done.
|08-25-2011, 06:35 AM||#29|
Join Date: Jun 2011
Well, it would be my fondest wish to be hired by them, so I guess all I can do is cross my fingers and keep posting, huh?
Hoo boy though, that's a relief you didn't have a problem with him. I had a feeling people might get touchy since I've seen Chandra get paired with Jace in a lot of head-canons, but...but...The Purifying Fire! How could I read that book and NOT have them still have a thing? It would be madness!
Thank you thank you thank you for the comments! I think I squealed a little this time, when I read them. Damn it. I'm turning into a blubbering fangirl after all...
Last edited by Anaithnid; 08-25-2011 at 10:04 AM.
|09-05-2011, 08:04 AM||#30|
Join Date: Mar 2010
Wow. Jace and Chandra? Really? Huh. Never would have put those two together. Ah well.
Anyway, there is one thing I didn't touch on. Venser. I love what you did with that guy. I really do. All I can think when reading this lately is "This is how the characters should act. This should be the novels." Ah well.
Anyway, Venser. Great job with him. Then again, you didn't make him a magical crackhead, so, how could it ever be worse?
Can't wait for the next chapter.
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