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.
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.
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.
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...
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?
Thanks! Venser was one of my favorite characters in the Time Spiral cycle, so I enjoyed getting to extrapolate on how he would act as an adult, given time and experience and a dash more confidence.
I only applied the first half of Quest for Karn to this story (Koth, Elspeth, and Venser enter Ish Sah; Tezzeret gives them Melira; they encounter Ezuri's refugee camp) because the entirety of the book was just so full of plot holes and bad characterizations - yeah, including Venser's drug addiction - that I couldn't bring myself to think of it as canon. Hence, Venser's alive, and no one has returned to find Karn...yet.
I'm in the process of finishing chapter 16 up right now, so I'm hoping to have it posted by tonight, if at all possible. Unfortunately, my own computer is getting repaired, so I'm having to rely on public library computers and the generosity of my roommates until it gets back to me (one of them is out, so she let me use her laptop for the next couple of hours). That threw a bit of a wrench into my schedule, but I'm going to keep trying. No use in sitting there and wasting my day pouting!
A/N: This chapter's a tad on the short side since, like I said, my computer is getting repaired, and I haven't had as much access to a computer this week to actually write.
When the tumult around me came to a stop, I realized that we were somewhere I definitely didn't want to be.
As Sorin had yanked me out of the Blind Eternities, I had felt the distinct…shift, in the power of the aether surrounding us both. In the Blind Eternities, mana was everywhere and everything at once. It was black, and white, and red and green and blue and sometimes so ethereal that there were no words to describe its shape. It was thick and smoldering, ice-cold and rushing and brilliant in the way it covered you like a form-fitting curtain of pure energy. But here, in this new place – no, in the second before I had even reached this new place – I realized it was nothing but soul-swallowing darkness. Part of me relished in the feel of it as it seeped into my bones, but the more logical part instantly recoiled, as if struck. It didn't take long for the horror of the situation to dawn on all of me.
There's only black mana here. Sorin's completely in his element.
And indeed the vampire was grinning, letting go of me to spread his arms wide as he surveyed his surroundings. There was little here but an endless grey bog, with murky water that soaked my sandals and squelched between my toes, and a sky that roiled with dark thunderheads above. It was barely visible between the branches that hung, clawlike, from a forest of dead trees, but I felt like it was bearing down on me with all its weight.
"Well then, I suppose it's time to see if the little kitten has any bite to her, hmmm?"
I turned to him, barely able to suppress a snarl. "Where have you taken us, Sorin?"
But my only response for a good long moment was a smile, a sight that curdled my blood like sour milk. "Oh? You're asking me? And here I thought you were getting along so well with that artificer boy. Why not go and ask him? I do believe this is where he mentioned that he was from."
My anger dwindled for a moment as I registered my surprise, and then began to rack my brain furiously for the name that Venser had told me several days ago. "This is…" I paused, and shook my head. "This is…Urborg?"
Sorin nodded, still smiling. "Precisely. Though I suppose it doesn't really matter – We're not going to be here long." He chuckled. The sound sent shivers rolling down my spine. "Stay still, and I promise it won't be longer than ten seconds."
I could see that his hand was falling to the hilt of his sword – which I hadn't noticed before, hidden as it was beneath his voluminous cloak – and I instinctively stepped back a few feet. The heels of my sandals squished in the muck. "You wish." I tried my best to sound brave, but unfortunately, the little quaver in my voice gave me away. Sorin's smile turned nearly feral as he eyed me, and I felt a sickness begin to grow in the pit of my stomach.
"Stay away," I snapped. I pulled black mana to me like a magnet, and instantly little wisps of dark smoke began to curl around my hands and up my arms, like vines. It felt good, but it wasn't enough. "Come any closer with that and I swear you'll regret it."
Sorin barked a laugh, cold and cruel and scathing as every hell. “Trying to talk tough to me? You’ve got guts, I’ll give you that.” I opened my mouth to reply, but before I could get a single word past my lips Sorin disappeared, and a momentary jolt of panic silenced me. The vampire’s voice echoed around the clearing in a lingering manner that brought to mind thoughts of restless spirits, though there was no visible body that it could have come from. A thick black haze began to swirl and settle around me. With a great deal of uneasiness, I noted that it had come out of nowhere, and that it was different from the black mana I was still calling to me…
“Too bad guts won’t get you anywhere when they’re spilled all over the ground.”
Suddenly, I felt a chill against the length of my throat. An instant later Sorin materialized behind me with one arm wrapped tight around my waist in an almost caress, and a shudder of revulsion ran through me at the feel of it, at the violation. Then something stung, and when I chanced a quick look downward I saw little red rivulets running down my chest from where his blade pressed into my neck. Fear coursed through me like wildfire. No. No. He can’t win that fast, I can’t let him---
“Well, that was no fun.” Sorin’s voice was bored, and he let out a long, deep sigh as he began to drum the fingers of his one hand against my hipbone. “Pathetic, really. You didn’t even get to cast a single spell. I’m disappointed.”
Instead of letting my mounting panic win, I growled low in my throat and felt the sound vibrate against his sword. His body stiffened ever so slightly behind me. I felt a little braver. “Good thing I’m not done fighting, then.”
Before he had a chance to react, I let loose with some of my pent-up mana in an explosion that covered us both in blinding violet light. Though he seemed otherwise unfazed by the release of power, Sorin stumbled backward just a single step, which was enough for me to duck beneath his sword arm and make off at a dead sprint toward the treeline. I half-expected him to follow me, so when I could run no more and had to double over, panting, it was to my surprise that I saw him standing in the exact spot where I had left him. The expression on his face was utterly unreadable. I noticed that a new, tiny smile was beginning to curl the corners of his lips, but I couldn’t tell if it was one of amusement or irritation. I hoped for the former.
“Very good,” he drawled, and he lifted his sword slowly to lick away the blood from its blade. My blood. I choked. He leered at me when his yellow eyes found mine. “I was hoping you wouldn’t give up so easily.”
Having fully regained my breath, I stood up straight and clenched my fists at my sides. My eyes narrowed. “I don’t give up.” My heart was racing, and it took a moment of feeling my pulse throb hard and fast in my neck to remember that I was injured there. I directed a fraction of my attention to the shallow cut, and one spell and a few seconds later I was whole, as if it had never existed.
“If that’s the case, then show me what you can do.” Sorin let his sword drop lazily to his side and he took a step forward, eyes never leaving mine. “I’m waiting.” He took another, and another, and as he moved toward me I moved away, backing up until I felt the rough press of bark against my shoulder. I stumbled around the tree and kept on moving, trying to clear my thoughts as I did. The unhurried, deliberate pace of his steps, however, was making me more anxious by the second, and I found it increasingly harder to focus on channeling my mana. When I bumped into another solid object, I turned and found myself up against a tightly-knit cluster of trees and the thorns that twisted between them like some nightmarish cobweb. I looked around in all directions, and realized that it fenced me in everywhere but straight ahead, from where I had come. I was trapped.
And still, Sorin continued his advance toward me.
Dread nearly ripped me apart in that instant, and I screamed. I had intended to yell something intimidating, or at least to tell him again to stay away, but instead the sound came out wordless and primal – the terrified, bloodcurdling sound of something that knew its death was imminent. Sorin wouldn’t kill me. He couldn’t – He said so himself, that he had to stay with this group and that hurting me would draw Jace’s ire, make him an enemy in all of their eyes. So…I really shouldn’t be so afraid. What was there to be afraid of? He was supposed to be my ally. I hated him, hated the way that he looked at me like prey and the way that he touched me like I was a thing, hated those horrible dark gleaming yellow eyes of his – a predator’s eyes – but despite all of that, we were working toward the same goal. We were working together. So why did I feel so afraid now, like everything was about to go to hells?
At once, I knew.
Just because Sorin couldn’t kill me didn’t mean that he couldn’t make my world agony.
I screamed again, and put all of my strength into latching my rift spell onto that thrice-damned sword of his. The dark smoke that had been building and swelling into a cloud around me seemed to expand even further, and I could feel the raw power that it imbued in me as I cast the spell with a cry. It tingled my skin as it passed through me and out, and there was a concussive blast, and I looked up just in time to see the rift burst into being right in front of Sorin’s face…
…except there was no rift. The air around Sorin shimmered and rippled, but not with the eldritch distortion that my spell brought about – it was with my spell itself as it drifted apart, impotent, to return its energy back into the aether.
Sorin laughed and continued walking forward.
I let out a wail, and desperately I cast the spell again, and again. Each time the ground shook with the force of it, and each time there was a humming that permeated the air between Sorin and I, but the instant before the spell should have manifested into a consuming rift, it simply…collapsed in on itself, and dissolved. Sorin’s sword seemed to glow with a faint light each time this happened. By the time I had finished my third unsuccessful attempt, he was mere yards away from reaching me, and I was so dizzy with fear and exhaustion from my mana expenditure that my vision began to blur.
“Why?” I gasped. I felt my legs tremble beneath me, and with a sucking splash I fell onto my knees in the marsh. I grasped onto a drooping, dead limb of one of the trees above me, and used it as a crutch to pull myself back to my feet. It broke the instant that I put weight on it, sending me tumbling back into the stagnant water. “Wh-why isn’t my spell working? What…did you do?”
I felt Sorin’s hand take hold of the front of my dress, and then a second later I was being lifted up off my feet, into the air. His ashen face swam in front of me, but even through all that, I could still see his eyes, piercing into me as easily as a knife cuts through butter. I struggled weakly against his grip. Fighting to shake off my daze, I reached up and grabbed the arm that held me with both of mine, but it was of little use. His touch seemed to drain me, to pull away not only my physical strength, but my will. After a few moments of flailing and kicking, I fell limp in his grasp. My hands still clutched him as tightly as I could manage.
“Dear little kitten,” he clucked his tongue disapprovingly, “you think I didn’t learn from our last encounter? You only seem to be proficient with one or two spells, so of course it was no trouble for me to simply enchant my sword with protection from your brand of, ah…destructive magic.” I could feel the heat of his breath on my face – like before, back in his room – but I couldn’t feel the pull of his ensorcelling magic. Either he wasn’t trying to snare me, or I was too exhausted to sense it. “I must say, if this is the best effort that you can put forth, then you are less than useless to me. Consider yourself to have lost our wager.”
The way his voice had suddenly lost all of its humor, regardless of how dark and unpleasant that humor had been, set my body quaking as I hung in his grasp. “No…” I moaned. “No, Sorin, please, I---”
“Although,” he interrupted, and my vision cleared enough to lock onto the gruesome smirk that crossed his face as he met my gaze, “there is one thing that I am willing to give you, for challenging me as you did.
His body shifted, and then he drew back his free arm to stab his sword straight through me, beneath my shoulder, right above my heart.
I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.
It felt like hours that I dangled there, impaled on his blade, and for the entirety of that time the only thing that I knew was agony. It tore at me, crushed me, sent me reeling into alternating light and darkness as my head spun and my muscles clenched around the foreign object in me, and I didn’t even have the luxury of being able to scream, or to cry. Something unknown held me back.
Finally, I slid from the weapon and fell like a ragdoll into the bog. As sensations other than pure searing pain returned, I felt the heat of my blood flowing out and pooling across my body, along with the sickly cold of the mud and muck. A single thought entered my mind.
I was wrong. I’m going to die.
There was a wet, ripping sound, and as I stared straight up into the spinning expanse of dead boughs and dark sky above me, I saw Sorin push up the sleeve of his cloak, and then the edge of his bloodied sword pass across the flesh of his forearm. Dark blood dripped from the wound. He stared at it for a long moment, and then turned to look down at me.
“Drink this,” he said. His tone was flat, with no emotion whatsoever. He knelt down beside me, sweeping his other arm out to keep his cloak from draping into the bog. I felt a few drops of his blood fall onto my face as he reached out his injured arm to me, right in front of my lips, and I noticed that it was almost…cold.
“W…wha…?” I didn’t have the strength to say anything more, and anyway, it hurt like the nine hells to breathe, let alone speak. It felt like I had been burned where he had stabbed me, and the flesh all around it felt like it was still aflame with hellsfire.
“I said,” he growled, “drink.”
Even in my current state, every fiber of my being cried out in opposition to his command. I knew that there were good reasons for me to be feeling this way – likely many – but right now I just…couldn’t think of them. I was slipping away, inch by inch, and as I did it took increasingly more effort to simply focus myself on what was in front of me.
“Last chance,” he said. When I still made no move, he pushed himself into a crouch, drawing his arm back toward his chest and away from me, and my only hope of life along with it.
“No,” I croaked, abruptly. With an effort I didn’t think I was capable of, I reached out with my uninjured arm and grabbed him. I pulled him roughly to me, and after a brief moment of hesitation, I resolved myself to my decision, and sealed my lips around the gash on his arm.
One minute that felt like an eternity later, Sorin yanked himself away. Everything around me, even my thoughts, seemed somehow clearer, but…his blood still clung thick to my teeth and tongue, and to the back of my throat. Spirits, I wondered if I would ever be able to wash away the taste of it, that sweet and metallic harshness that somehow tasted different than my own blood did whenever I accidentally bit down on my cheek. A wave of nausea washed over me, and I tilted my head to the side and retched.
I was too caught up in my anguish that I barely noticed Sorin scoop me up into his arms until I was already nestled against his chest. When the flare of pain and sickness finally passed, I strained to look up at him, though my muscles shook as I did so. His eyes were fixed straight ahead, narrowed and unblinking. The steel in their gaze made me shiver.
“Sleep,” he whispered hollowly, and at once I found myself unable to disobey. My eyes closed against my own will, and an instant later I was drifting away, floating on a cloud of nothingness until I found myself entangled in dreams – of blood, of thick dark hair splayed out around me, and of a long-forgotten face that hovered before my eyes, pale as death.
Well...umm...best to start actually giving my thoughts, I guess. I love the description of Urborg. I almost get a feel like the Eventide novel. By that, I mean the style of description.
And...umm...Sorin's evil. I don't mean that in a cute way, either. He seemed completely bug-**** evil right then. The way you described the battle, and the aftermath, really hit the Shadowmoor/Eventide style, where bloodshed was very blunt in its telling. I have this horrible mental image of my favorite elf impaled and bleeding in a blackened husk of a moor, with no-one around but her attempted killer.
I will say this...you left a damn near perfect cliff-hanger. Is Ranewen now a vampire? What is Sorin's end-game? What's gonna happen???
Now, i'll be watching this like a hawk. Can not wait to see the next chapter. There's probably more I could say, but i can't think very clearly yet. So, until next time.
Haha! Thanks, as always! Glad to hear you liked the chapter. I was worried that it wouldn't be long enough, but it looks like I worried over nothing. You'll see what happens in the next one, I promise!
And yeah, Sorin is kind of a jerk here, isn't he? I mean, come on. Stabbing people? Rude.
That was the first thing I noticed when my eyes slid open, blinking to bring the world around me back into focus. No pain. Not even a little. I reached up with my uninjured right arm to gingerly touch my wounded shoulder, but to my immense surprise, there was no wound. The flesh was knit together so tightly that there wasn’t a hint of a scar, or even so much as a rough patch. I tested the motion of that arm, stretching it and rotating it and flexing the muscles there, and it worked as good as it ever had. Better, even. How in the nine hells…?
Before I could ponder on it further, though, I suddenly became aware of my surroundings. I was lying on my back, with a pillow beneath my head and a blanket covering me, and atop that blanket, open across my stomach, was a rather large book. I picked it up and flipped through the pages. Though I couldn’t read the script – hells, I had never learned how to read, period – I could tell from the succession of pictures that it was a history, detailing Ravnica’s past in artwork just as much as words. When I closed it and set it down beside me, I noticed that I had been placed on one of the Consortium common room’s large couches. This must have been where I spent the night.
But who brought me here? Why not my room? And especially, why the book? It looked like it had been placed there for a reason.
Then, another thought, one that made my blood run cold – Sorin.
What did he do to me?
I didn’t have a chance to worry any further, because when I looked up and turned, I saw Chandra standing at the foot of the stairs, with Gideon close behind. Jace and Venser were there too, but they both slipped past her to come down and stand in the room. All of them were looking at me with a mix of curiosity and mild confusion, and for whatever reason, their collective attention made me blush. I sat up. The motion made the blanket slide off of me a little. When it did, I noticed that I was still wearing my new green dress, and that – to my further anxiety – it was completely free of rips and bloodstains.
What happened last night?
“What’re you doing here?” The pyromancer, too, descended the last couple of stairs, and took a few steps in my direction, throwing her hands up. She twisted her lips into an exasperated expression, but I could see the relief behind it. “We were looking for you all last night, but we couldn’t find you. Sorin was gone too, so we got worried.”
“Oh?” A hundred thoughts raced through my brain, some of them confused, some of them worried, some of them outright afraid. I didn’t know what to say. “I, uh…I’m sorry.”
“What happened, Ranewen?” It was Jace who spoke this time. He stepped up beside Chandra, and then continued on until he was just a few feet away from me, so close that I could breathe in the scent of him – which, I realized, I had never noticed before, oddly enough. It was sweet. His voice was calm, but the way his brow furrowed, the hard set of his jaw, and the narrowing of his eyes and lips alike all meant business, and I suddenly realized that I was in a position of rather significant power. Tell the truth about what happened yesterday – or at least, what I remembered to have happened – and I could get Sorin in deep trouble. Keep my mouth shut, and I would ensure his continued membership in the group, much less his position as its co-de facto leader.
I remembered the glow of his eyes, and I shivered. I remembered the feel of his blade sinking into and through me, and my muscles tensed.
Then I remembered the taste of his blood in my mouth, and I felt something jerk deep inside me, in my chest. A horrible sinking feeling grew in the pit of my stomach. My pulse quickened, and it took every ounce of will I had to keep my expression calm.
“I…” I swallowed hard. I paused for a long moment, and then at last, I shook my head. My hair tumbled into my eyes, and I moved to brush it away with trembling hands, which I prayed to the spirits that Jace couldn’t see. “I came back from having a talk with him, and I was looking through your bookshelves and decided to sit down and read. Well, sort of. I can’t read, so I was just…looking at all the pictures. I got comfortable, and I guess I must have been tired enough to fall asleep at some point. That’s…really, that’s it. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you all.” My voice didn’t sound convincing to me in the least, and from the look on Jace’s face, it seemed like it didn’t sound that way to him either. Dread crept its way up my spine.
Strangely, though, he didn’t call me out on what I was sure that he knew was a lie. His voice was quiet, unreadable. “Chandra said you two were talking about the Eldrazi. Is that true?”
I forced myself to laugh, and then lifted myself up into a sitting position to rest my elbows playfully on my knees. If Jace was going to give me an inch, then damn it, I was going to do my best to take a mile instead. I gave the handsome mage my most attractive smile. “Jeez, Jace, what’s with the twenty questions? Yes, we talked about the Eldrazi. He didn’t give me much information, though. It was like pulling teeth.”
Jace cocked an eyebrow. His hands clenched into fists at his sides and then unclenched, just once. He let out his breath in a deep sigh. “I…see.”
When I looked away from him for a moment, to my surprise, it appeared that Chandra had been completely duped. She came closer to lean against the back of one of the couches across from me, and moments later Gideon did the same at her side. He was frowning, but he said nothing. Chandra, on the other hand, was smiling, and she chuckled lightly, adjusting her river of red hair over one shoulder and then pulling a few loose strands out from beneath her goggles. “Well, I coulda told you that, Rana. Hells, I was going to, but you walked out on me!”
I feigned a smile in return, and for some reason my eyes slid past Jace, Chandra, and Gideon alike, and came to settle on Venser. The way he met my gaze in earnest gave me pause, and for a moment I felt as if he were trying to tell me something silently, to… encourage me, perhaps. I sucked in a quiet breath. I still didn’t know what had happened after Sorin had forced me unconscious, and it was quite possible that whatever it was, it was bad. Very bad. With a chill, I realized that I didn’t know exactly how vampires perpetuated their species, how they turned other people – I had always assumed it was just with a bite to the neck, but…I had drunk the man’s blood, for the spirits’ sakes. He had commanded me to sleep, too, with a single word, and I had been powerless to disobey. Yes, Sorin was clearly a master of blood magic, and yes, I was most certainly not dead, but…the cold, insistent tug in the center of my chest spoke volumes, and in a sinister tone that I drew no pleasure from hearing.
For a moment longer I kept my eyes locked with Venser’s, and I could feel my resolve weakening even further.
Just as I was about to open my mouth to speak, a familiar voice drawled from the side doorway, and I froze outright in fear.
“You called, Beleren?”
Sorin sauntered his way into the room, clad as usual in his dark leathers and long black cloak. His boots clicked against the wood as he moved, and with each step he took closer to me, I drew further and further into the cushions at my back. I only realized that I was doing this when Jace stepped in front of me, a protective gesture that at once startled me and brought a flush to my cheeks. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Venser strolling casually over to where our group stood until he came to stop behind my couch, and leaned his arms on its back and his head on his arms. I could feel his breath against my ear.
“Don’t worry. I know something happened, but we’ll talk about it later. Just try to relax.”
Relief washed through me when I heard his words, and I had to stop myself from turning and throwing my arms around the artificer’s neck in a tight hug. I had been hoping beyond hope that I wouldn’t have to suffer in ignorance alone, and for once, my prayers seemed to have been answered. Regardless of how much better I felt, though, I couldn’t hold back the brief panic that jolted through me at the sight of Sorin’s sword, bouncing lightly against his hip as he walked. I felt Venser’s hand on my shoulder for just a moment, and that calmed me enough for me to resume a normal breathing pattern. I closed my eyes, and forced myself to do as Venser said. Relax.
“I did,” Jace answered, and when he spoke his voice was like ice. I flinched at the sound of it, though I took some comfort from the fact that it was directed not toward me, but toward the person I most dreaded seeing. Hells, I dreaded everything about Sorin right now, even just the thought of him. “I believe it’s time to decide who you’ll be taking with you to Grixis when you leave tomorrow.”
Sorin’s eyes slid to mine even as he flung himself down into his usual armchair, and I physically recoiled from them. They were wide, like a cat’s. Predator’s eyes. “Oh, well, good. I already have an idea of who that might be.”
I returned Sorin’s gaze with as defiant a look as I could muster, but I could still feel my body start to quake. Venser’s hand returned to my shoulder, and Jace took one step backward, toward me. He was unable to keep the venom from his voice entirely, but at least he was able to keep it down to a reasonably acceptable level. “And?”
“And I’m choosing the little elf, of course.” Sorin’s lips curled in a cross between a smile and a sneer. My heart pounded, so hard that I could hear my blood thundering in my ears. “Grixis is a world of pure black mana. She uses black mana more than any of the rest of you do, so she would be the most likely to…subsist, in a place like that. I was thinking of teaching her, even – helping her hone her spells. She needs the practice, doesn’t she?”
“Yes, but I’m afraid she’s coming with me. I already decided. We’re going to need a healer on this mission, and I’m pretty out of practice. So, sorry, but you’ll have to pick someone else.”
My jaw dropped just a little, and Sorin’s eyes narrowed. Now Jace was the one I severely wanted to hug. He stood tall and straight, arms folded over his chest, and even though he had turned his back to me and I could no longer see the expression on his face, the air he gave off was no less implacable.
“Ah,” the vampire said simply. When he spoke, he made sure that we could all see his fangs, long and sharp and gleaming perfectly white. Abruptly, an image of blood on those fangs – my blood, I just knew it – flashed through my mind. A needle of fear shot through my heart. The thought was…just a recollection, from when he had licked his blade after cutting my neck. That was all it was. I was sure of it. Still though, I instinctively drew closer to the back of the couch, toward Venser.
Sorin sighed, and then flicked his hand dismissively in our direction. “Fine, then. It matters not who else comes with me, so long as I have two companions and---”
“I’ll go,” Gideon said suddenly.
Sorin frowned, his brow darting up his forehead. The rest of us turned to look at Gideon, and Chandra bristled at his side.
“Wait, you…you really want to go there? To Grixis?” She didn’t sound angry or indignant, merely baffled. One of her hands alighted on his arm as she spoke, and at her touch he looked down into her eyes, patiently. “That place is a s***hole. There’s nothing there but zombies and skeletons and…other disgusting, dead things. It’s going to be just like Diraden!”
“Exactly,” he said. He placed one gentle hand overtop hers, and at the gesture her gaze softened and her shoulders slumped. Her lips parted ever so slightly, as if she wanted to speak but didn’t know the words to say. “Even though they aren’t the same by a long shot, I still believe that my experience on that plane will help me get by on Grixis. Yours too, Chandra. You should come with me.”
“But I…” After a long second of staring into Gideon’s solemn blue gaze she faltered, and at last she sagged hopelessly with her head against his shoulder. She exhaled deeply. “Aw, hells, alright. Fine. You win.” She paused, and then cocked an eyebrow at him, lips morphing into a scowl. “But you can’t let any zombies get into my tent while I’m sleeping and chew on my head, okay?”
Gideon chuckled. The sound rumbled across the room, like a roll of thunder, and he shook his head so that his dark hair – loose down his back this time – brushed lightly against both of his shoulders. “Fine. Just so long as you don’t get yourself into any trouble, then we have a deal.”
“So I guess that means I’m coming with you two, huh?” Venser was still leaning against the back of the couch, and close as I was to him, I could feel the movement as he tilted his head to the side.
Jace turned to face the both of us and nodded. His expression softened when he met my gaze and saw the gratitude there, and, for once – for the first time, perhaps – I didn’t feel embarrassed when he saw me blush. “Yeah. This is going to be a bit of an, uh…” He tangled his fingers through his hair on one side, mussing it, “…an undercover mission, so we’re going to have to go to Dravhoc district and pick up some clothes to help us blend in. I’ll tell you the details on the way. Fair enough?”
“Fair enough,” Venser agreed. He straightened up, taking the warmth of his nearness as he went. I moved to pull the blanket up underneath my chin.
Continuing to ignore Sorin behind him, Jace once again fixed his eyes on me. He smiled, a sight that lifted the burden of worry from my shoulders, even if for just a moment, and for that same moment I found it markedly more difficult to breathe. “How soon do you think you can be ready, Ranewen?”
“Just give me a few minutes,” I said. I threw the blanket off of me and stood. Though the knowledge that he was watching me made me more than a little sick to my stomach, I did my best to avoid Sorin’s gaze when it followed, like a yellow-eyed hawk. “I’ll meet you back down here, alright?”
Jace nodded again, and I took the cue to dart up the stairs and into my bathroom, where I locked the door securely behind me. For a few minutes I just stood there, palms resting against the counter and head bent low over the sink. Slowly, I lifted it enough so that I could see beyond my hair, and looked in the mirror. My own eyes stared back at me, wide and green and carrying far too much weight than I should ever have known them to bear, and all of the worry that I had previously been trying to suppress came crashing down in an instant.
So what am I now? I wondered, with a twinge of despair. Am I a monster? I ran a finger down the length of my cheek. Unlike Sorin’s skin, it still felt warm to the touch.
Or am I lucky enough this time to just be the victim?
“Well, what do you think?”
Jace, Venser, and I had returned from our shopping excursion and spent the rest of the day preparing our things, but now it was morning again, the day of everyone's departure. I was trying on my new outfit for all to see – dark, skin-tight leathers, with a red tunic visible beneath the vest on my upper half, and a thick black cloak thrown over my shoulders. I had the hood up to hide my ears, since Jace had said that the Cult of Rakdos never employed as many elves as the other guilds did. Our current mission was to seek out the suspected planeswalker Alanor Fireheart that Jace had mentioned before, and either to recruit him…or, if he resisted, to kill him. Jace was just as uncomfortable with the idea as I was – Venser, too – but as he had said, Alanor had been stirring up far too much trouble for the Consortium lately to just ignore him any longer. If we couldn’t convince him to add his strength to our own, then there was no other choice but to eliminate him. We had to do it before he could actually manage to pull the cult together into a semblance of its former self, because if that happened, then a great deal of trouble was guaranteed to follow, Jace had assured us several times over. Right now our current plan of action was to dress up as members of the cult, sneak in – either the old-fashioned way, or with the aid of Venser’s teleport – and then to determine Alanor’s whereabouts, so that we could devise a way to meet with him in private. We hadn’t quite figured out what we would do then if we managed to get that far, but, well…first things first. Right now, I was most concerned about making sure that my outfit was suitable.
“Think I could pass for a thug yet?”
Jace and Venser, clad in studded heavy leathers and reclining in the two armchairs that sat beside my window, chuckled, and Chandra giggled from where she lay sprawled across my bed. “You’re a little small for a thug,” she pointed out, poking a finger in my direction. She grinned, and I pouted. With a dramatic flourish, I swept my cloak up and around me to cover my face.
“Oh, come on,” I insisted. I tried my best to make my voice sound deep and menacing. “I at least look like I would stab you if we met in a dark alley rather than hug you, right?”
A small, amused smirk crossed Jace’s lips, and he cocked an eyebrow. “You look like you would more than hug me, if I had the coin.”
Venser and Chandra snorted. I felt my cheeks heat up, and I was thankful that my face was still hidden from view when I turned to him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snapped. Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t able to hold back the note of laughter that crept into my voice, because I knew perfectly well what Jace meant, and he knew that I knew. Now, I just wanted to egg him on.
The mage shrugged, languidly, and fixed me with an expression of mock surprise. “Don’t you know? Only women of the night wear makeup like that.”
I knew he meant the Tajuru war paint that I had improvised out of some of Chandra’s powders – a mix of green and brown designs that coated and fanned out from my eyelids, as well as a heavier powder that ringed my eyes in black. The pyromancer had had a great deal of fun watching me put it on, and had marveled at my skill in bending the tiniest of her brushes to my whim.
“Says you,” she piped up then. “I think she looks pretty.”
“Would you wear that around Gideon, Chandra?” For once, Jace’s voice was free of derision as he addressed her, throwing a teasing smile in her direction.
Chandra blushed. She stiffened, and then rolled over onto her back. “I…maybe.” She crossed her arms over her chest, and turned her head to the side to scowl at him. “Who are you to judge what a lady wears, Beleren? The only woman you’ve ever had is Liliana, and she looked like she painted her whole damn face on every---”
“That’s enough,” he interrupted, with a harsh edge to his voice that silenced her instantly. It didn’t stop her from scowling, though, so indeed she continued. He waved a hand at her impatiently. “I was simply expressing my opinion, not trying to start an argument.”
As always, the mention of Liliana piqued my curiosity, but I knew better than to ask. Crossing my own arms over my chest, I turned to Venser and tilted my head a little, and let the cloak fall to settle about my knees. “Well, what about you, Venser? What do you think? You’ll back me up on this one, right?”
The artificer chuckled, and he shook his head as he raised his shoulders in an apologetic shrug. “Sorry Rana, but I’m going to have to agree with Jace. It’s intricate, and I’m sure it took a lot of time and effort to do, but…” He paused, and then chuckled again as he planted his forehead in his palm. He looked at once amused and embarrassed. “The last time I saw someone with that much on, she was propositioning me when I cut through a back alley in Epityr.”
I let out an incredulous laugh. Jace did too, though his was significantly quieter. “And you said yes, right?” When she spoke, Chandra rolled back onto her stomach to leer at Venser, whose face instantly flushed a bright red.
“I…no, Chandra, thank you very much, I did not.” His gaze flicked to me before dropping down awkwardly to his lap, and suddenly, I found myself smiling. I was sure he had detected her note of sarcasm, so I found his reaction in spite of that fact almost…cute. The man had never failed to cheer me up since I had met him, and considering the unfavorable circumstances that I had found myself in of late, his was a very welcome presence to just have around. He made me forget, even if only for a while, and that was something I needed to remember to thank him for. I promised myself that I would…just as soon as I find the right words to do it without sounding like a damn idiot.
I hadn’t had a chance to speak to him alone, though – at least, not yet. I was jovial enough at the moment, but I couldn’t keep thoughts of Sorin from gnawing at the corners of my mind, even now. I knew that if I didn’t talk to Venser soon, I might just go mad. Either that, or I would die a slow death from my own anxiety.
“I hate to interrupt, but Sorin is getting ready to leave, Chandra.”
All four of us turned then to see Gideon leaning against the doorframe, clad in his full plating and, notably, with his sural coiled at his hip. Just like that, and with his hair tied back, he looked ready to jump right into the fray, zombie hordes be damned. He cocked his head at Chandra. She sighed and rolled over again, onto her back.
“Right now?” she whined. “Come on, he said we weren’t leaving for another hour.”
Gideon shrugged, the motion crisp and short. “Well, he changed his mind. Don’t ask me why. He’s just as tight-lipped around me as he is the rest of you.”
Chandra sighed again, and after a long moment she finally rolled over one last time, off the bed and onto her feet. She straightened, brushing the wrinkles from her long tunic. “So…I guess I should say my goodbyes then, right?”
Chandra turned to me first, and hurried over to wrap her arms around me in a hug. I returned the embrace warmly. “Promise me you’ll be careful, Rana? Jace can sometimes get everyone in over their heads, and I’m worried about you.”
Though Jace frowned behind us, he had enough courtesy not to say anything. I laughed, lightly, and pulled back enough to hold Chandra out at arm’s length. “I’ll be fine, I promise. If worse comes to worse, I have two big strong men to take care of me.” Seeing my grin, she chuckled, and I took the opportunity to tilt my head toward Gideon and send him a wink. “You make sure she doesn’t get in any trouble, okay?”
Gideon looked a little taken aback, but a moment later he had recovered, and he smiled at me with genuine warmth. He bowed at the waist, like he had done the day that I had met him. “You can count on me, m’lady.”
Chandra blushed. I beamed at her, and after one last meaningful look, we broke the embrace. She headed over to the doorway to join Gideon, and once there, she turned and waved at Jace and Venser, both of whom had stood from their chairs.
“See you both later. I’m sure we’ll all be back soon enough, right?”
Jace didn’t speak or nod, but he did afford Chandra an affable smile. Venser, on the other hand, outright grinned, and he returned Chandra’s wave. “It was nice meeting the both of you,” he said cheerily.
“You too,” they said, and upon realizing that they had spoken in unison, they turned to one another and beamed. The expression on both of their faces was so endearing that I had a brief moment of just wanting to burst.
Once Chandra and Gideon had turned and begun to head down to the common room, I too turned to Jace, and he to Venser. The artificer looked a little confused upon being the receiving end of the mage’s attention, but a few seconds later he seemed to remember something, and reached behind the chair where he had been sitting to pull out a shortsword. It was newly purchased thanks to Jace’s seemingly endless pool of Consortium funds, just like the rest of our gear, and after a moment of fumbling – he didn’t look terribly used to weapons, though he did have a proper grip on the handle – he managed to slide it into the sheath at his belt. Jace, himself, did the same thing, pulling out a sword from behind his own chair. His blade was significantly longer, and also looked significantly more worn – but the way he held it with such care, though, made me wonder.
“Time to head out?”
Jace merely nodded in response to Venser, since he was still staring down at the steel in his hands. “Mm.” He paused, as if in thought, and then finally he looked up, blinking several times to bring himself back into focus. “You remember that place I told you about, that side tunnel near their headquarters where we can teleport in to start?”
Now Venser nodded. “I do. Want me to take us there now?”
Jace nodded again, and let out his breath in a sigh. “Yeah.” He turned to me. As his blue eyes found mine, he tilted his head to the side just a little. “So long as you’re ready to go, Ranewen?”
I patted my hunting knife at my own belt, forcing myself to smile despite the little knots of anxiety forming in my stomach. I can’t show my fear. Not anymore. “No need to worry about me. I’m all set!”
“Good.” Jace took a step closer to Venser, and the artificer immediately recognized what he was doing and reached out a hand to both of us. I stared at the offered limb in confusion, but after a moment I remembered that Venser had to be touching anyone he wanted to teleport along with him, and I nearly laughed aloud at my own stupidity. I guessed it was the stress, that was making me forget things.
“Oh!” I still hadn’t taken Venser’s hand, and so I quickly reached out to do so, noting once I did how warm his palm felt over mine. He squeezed tightly. I could feel the mana crackling between us as he prepared his spell, and the strange, tingling sensation of it nearly stole my breath away.
“What do we do if we end up teleporting right in the middle of a patrol or something?” Venser yelled, for as his spell neared its completion, it became harder and harder to hear the world around us. I assumed it had something to do with the fact that we were losing our connection to the “here” as we strengthened ours to the “there,” but that was just an idle musing.
“We have some fun,” Jace yelled back, and the wry, boyish grin on his face was the last thing I saw before my bedroom vanished in a sheen of rippling golden light.
I normally post on Mondays, so I felt the need to apologize for the fact that I'm going to be moving the next chapter back to Wednesday evening - I have been under the weather for the past week (all of my roommates are sick as well, so there must be a virus going around), and am just now getting hit with the worst of whatever I have. I’m still writing, of course, but I’m only about halfway done with the chapter. It’s the longest one in awhile, and a lot of good stuff happens, so I want to take extra care with it (but still make sure that I get my needed bed rest!).
So yes, Wednesday evening. Be there or be square. I will be, too...with a nice tall glass of orange juice.
Thanks again for taking the time to check out my story!
Your health is of course, first and for most. If I had to wait another month for quality reading material like yours, I would. Of course, Wednesday works just fine too :tongue:. Take care, and I await the next chapter eagerly :).
When I sucked in my next breath of air, it was so dank and stale that I gagged.
It was pitch-black around us, so I held onto Venser’s hand and stumbled toward him until I bumped into his side, at which point he reached out an arm to catch me around the shoulder. His other hand released mine, and lifted it to summon one of his little blue wisps into his palm. Finally, I could see.
The whole setting – Venser teleporting me and one other companion into a dark, unpleasant-smelling tunnel – was rather reminiscent of my experience at Ish Sah, but I chose not to ponder on those memories. Instead I took in our surroundings – heavy, hard stone walls on two sides, worn smooth in places and stretching high above our heads to curve into an unnaturally flat ceiling. These tunnels must be man-made, then, I thought. I tilted my head all around, and there, in the distance, I spotted a tiny flickering flame – But then I blinked, for it was not stationary. It was moving, drawing slowly closer from what looked like a half-mile away.
“Venser!” I hissed. I cupped my hands over his wisp in an attempt to smother it. The thing felt cool to the touch, like a more solid version of morning mist. “Put it out, someone’s coming!”
The artificer turned to look where I was looking, as did Jace beside him, and when he saw the flame he swore quietly under his breath. He did indeed quench the wisp through whatever means, and then pulled me back with the arm still around my shoulder until we were pressed flat against the wall behind us. Jace followed.
“Just hold on. I can wrap us in a full set of illusions, but it’ll take a second.” The mage’s eyes flashed briefly blue in the darkness, and I had to refrain from gasping at the odd sensation that washed over me an instant later – like being dunked in ice cold water. I couldn’t see what Jace had done to me, but I just felt…different. From the way Venser tensed next to me, I could tell that the same thing was happening to him too.
“Hold your breath,” Jace whispered, “and don’t make a sound. That’s the only thing my illusions aren’t too good at hiding.”
We did. The flame had drawn close enough by now that I could see what it was – a floating spell, hovering neatly above the outstretched hand of a figure in dark, spiked leathers and gleaming silver buckles. The hood of a ragged black cloak was drawn up over its head, which, along with the flickering glow of the fire, gave his face – for now, nearly just a few yards away, I could see that it was indeed a he – an eerie, sallow look. I shivered.
When the man was close enough that I could reach out and touch him, he stopped. My heart began to hammer in my chest.
Oh, please, no. We’ve barely even started this mission. This can’t be happening already.
But my momentary panic was in vain, for the man had merely paused to adjust the wicked-looking serrated blade at his belt. He stood a little taller when he was finished, coughed once, and with an agonizingly slow gait, he moved on. I felt the barest brush of his cloak against my ankle as he left.
Finally, when he was a good while away, the three of us relaxed and let out our breaths as quietly as we could. There was another strange sensation as – I assumed – Jace loosened his grip on his illusions, and I slumped against the wall for a moment before collecting myself.
“Thank the spirits,” I whispered. I found myself laughing lightly, nervously, before I could stop myself. “I know you sounded like you were itching for a fight, Jace, but…I feel like alerting these guys to our presence so early isn’t a good idea.” I took a step forward from the wall, rolling my shoulders that had become sore from so much tensing.
Jace chuckled. Venser brought to life another wisp, and when the area around us lit up, I could see the half-grin on the mage’s face.
“Well,” he said, “if we don’t want to stand here hiding all day, then we should probably get moving, right?”
Venser and I both nodded. The artificer tilted his head in the direction that the patroller had gone, and swung his arm out to hold the wisp like the man had, as a torch. “This way, then?”
Now Jace nodded. “Yeah. Let’s just make sure to keep an eye out.”
And so we began to make our way forward, following the seemingly-endless tunnel at a snail’s pace. We continued on for what felt like the better part of an hour, encountering no one else during that time – perhaps we were right in the middle of two patrols, Jace mused at one point – and I was beginning to wonder why we hadn’t simply teleported in right where we needed to be when suddenly I heard a faint noise coming from ahead. Venser must have heard it too, because he stopped dead in his tracks, and then Jace put a hand out in front of me to halt my own progress.
“Listen,” he breathed. “It sounds like…”
There was a long pause, and then I heard Venser inhale sharply at my right.
“…chanting,” he finished.
His voice was hesitant, and when I pricked up my ears and listened too, I realized why.
Indeed, the echo against the tunnel’s stone walls was one of rhythmic voices, their words indistinguishable but their collective tone unmistakably ominous – and the shuddering, sporadic roars of a crowd only heightened the unsettling effect. Here and there the sound was mixed with screams – bloodcurdling ones, no less – the first of which sent us all flinching back in surprise.
“Well, this sure sounds like it’s gonna be fun,” I muttered. Shivers were crawling their way up and down my spine now, and I rubbed my arms to quell the gooseflesh that was prickling beneath my leathers.
Jace turned to me. In the dim light I could see his brows pulled tightly over his eyes, and for a moment I thought he might be angry – But a moment after that, I could have kicked myself when I recognized the look on his face to be one of concern.
“This isn’t right,” he said quietly. He was clenching the hilt of his sword at his belt, so tightly that his knuckles had turned white. Not a good sign. “My informants told me that Alanor hadn’t revived it to this point yet---”
“Revived what to what point?” When Venser interrupted, I was taken aback by the harshness in his voice. I turned to him, and when I did I saw that he wore an expression of uncertainty, with a mixture of suspicion and alarm slowly creeping its way across his features. Also not a good sign. My stomach began to churn. “What’s going on down that tunnel that you’re not telling us, Jace?”
The mage shook his head, and he made a motion as if to pull up the hood of his cloak – but found no hood to grab, and so he let his hands drop awkwardly to his sides. “I…” He faltered, suddenly seeming to realize that both Venser and I were staring at him intently. After a long moment he sighed, and reached his fingers up to comb through his hair. “Look, it’s…nothing important. Probably. Let’s just get over there and see what’s going on before I start into any explanations, alright?”
“Probably?” I groaned.
“You’re hiding something, aren’t you,” Venser said. It was not a question.
Jace waved a hand irritably at the artificer and turned on his heel, ignoring me entirely as he began to walk briskly down the remainder of the tunnel. Despite the speed at which he moved, his boots were as silent as the pads of a cat’s paws. “Just come on,” he snapped. “We don’t have time to stand here and argue with each other – We’ll get caught by one of the damn patrollers. I’ll explain when we get there.”
Venser and I shared an uneasy look.
“Get where?” I whispered.
The artificer shrugged, and gave me a forced sort of smile. “Well…guess we have no choice but to find out, huh?”
“Uh…yeah.” I could see that Jace had already gained a good deal of distance on us, so I hurried to try and catch up – though my footsteps were considerably less stealthy than his, so I had to slow down in order to stay quiet enough. Venser followed close at my heels, and soon he had come to my side to match pace with me, his steps syncing with mine.
We walked in silence for several minutes – or at least, as much silence as could be afforded when the lovely ambience of chanting and screaming was growing louder by the second – and then at last he spoke up.
“See anything?” he whispered. I could tell from the way he threw his voice that he was addressing Jace as well as me.
“I…” There was a pause, and then suddenly Jace came to a halt in front of us. His back stiffened, and he thrust his arm out to one side. “Wait…yeah, I think I do. Put your wisp out for a second, Venser.”
He did. The both of us took this chance to stumble our way forward in the dark until we were at Jace’s side – which we confirmed when I bumped straight into the mage’s back, and Venser into his arm – and then we stopped, squinting ahead. At first I wondered whether Jace was going mad, because I couldn’t see anything beyond the thick, smothering blackness, but then…
“There’s a light!” I gasped. My hand immediately flew up to cover my mouth, for the sound had come out far louder than I intended it to.
“Yeah, I see it too.” Venser’s voice was coming from my left instead of my right now, and he sounded significantly less…suspicious than he had just a few minutes ago. Perhaps his curiosity was starting to get the better of him.
“Looks like our destination’s just ahead,” Jace whispered. He sounded out of breath, and there was an odd, yet distinct note in his voice that I couldn’t quite place – Anticipation, perhaps? “Venser, keep your teleport at the ready. We might need to get out of here at a moment’s notice, especially if---”
Suddenly there was a shrill scream from ahead, and then hundreds of voices raised as one in an exultant, wordless cry. Now that I was startled out of my wits and I could no longer block those noises from my mind, I realized that I could hear the steady rhythm of drumbeats behind it all, in time with the chanting.
“…I-If?” I whispered faintly.
“If that turns out to be what I’m hoping it isn’t.” My eyes had adjusted to the dark, but not well enough for me to see the expression on Jace’s face – though really, I didn’t need to, what with the way his voice spoke volumes.
“You still haven’t told us what that might be,” Venser reminded him. “We’re not telepaths like you, you know. You’re going to have to say it out loud.”
I could almost sense the irritation making its way back onto Jace’s features, but he did well enough to keep it out of his voice. I had moved close to his side after bumping into him, though, and pressed together as we were, I could feel the muscles in his arm clench. “You’ve got to trust me. If things start getting dangerous, we’ll pull out, I promise. But right now, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions before I’ve seen what in the hells is going on.”
There was a creaking of leather as Venser shrugged. “Well, you’re the boss here. Lead the way.”
Suddenly, I felt a hard warmth fumbling down my wrist, and then when it finally found my palm and grasped it tight, I realized that it was Jace’s gloved hand. My breath caught in my throat. When his fingers slid in between mine for a better grip – that…was why he did it, right? – however much I tried to stop it, I felt the heat of blood rush into my cheeks.
Well, thank the spirits it’s at least dark in here.
“We’re going to have to make our way down there without that wisp,” Jace murmured. His palm squeezed against mine, and it was all I could do not to let out a squeak. “It’ll attract too much attention once we get near. Venser, can you find one of our hands? I don’t want us to get separated, especially if we need to teleport out in a hurry.”
“Yeah.” There was a moment of shuffling and creaking leather, and then I felt Venser’s hand ghosting up along my arm, unsure.
“What did I find?” he asked.
“That would be my leg,” Jace deadpanned in return, before I could reply, “and you'd better plan on finishing what you start if you’re going to get me all excited.”
Venser snorted. I let out a disbelieving giggle. “Very funny.” Finally the artificer’s hand reached my own, and his also-gloved palm settled over mine in a comfortable fit. “If that really was your leg, then hells Jace, you need to get out of your office more. It’s thin as a rail.”
“And if that’s your attempt at sweet-talking me, then you really need some help.”
“Guys,” I interrupted, doing everything I could to contain my building laughter, “are you going to just stand around flirting with each other, or are we actually going to go find out what that noise is?”
Jace sighed dramatically. “I suppose, if we must.”
“Thanks for being the rational one for us, Rana,” Venser added.
I couldn’t help but grin, and I shook my head, even as Jace resumed walking forward again. “Out of all the times, you two pick now to start making jokes?”
Venser chuckled, and Jace shrugged – This time I could actually see it, though only slightly. It was odd to be walking with the three of us connected, so most of my attention was focused on putting one foot in front of the other without tripping, or stepping on the back of Jace’s boot. “Better than letting the nervous tension build to a boiling point, don’t you think?”
My grin broadened, and I felt a rush of appreciation for the mage. Unconsciously, my hand squeezed his a little tighter. “That’s…true.”
But however much I appreciated it, the lighthearted mood didn’t last much longer. As we continued down the tunnel and the chanting, screaming, and now-frenzied drumbeats grew louder, I felt more and more drained with each step I took. Where before there had been a warmth of brief cheer in my chest, now there was just a hole – and it was filling up with dread, so quickly that there was nothing I could do to stop it.
The light was growing brighter too, and we soon realized that it was coming from a side passage just a quarter of a mile ahead.
The closer we drew, the more fond I became of the dark.
Finally, maybe ten minutes later, we reached the fork in the path – a sharp hook to the left, with flickering firelight streaming against the wall dead ahead of it. We stopped a good several yards back from the glow, so as not to be seen by whomever was within – especially since the noise had turned into an outright cacophony by this point, and we were loath to get ourselves swept up in whatever was happening.
Or at least, I was. Venser and Jace were brimming with such curious anxiety that I thought they both might burst.
“You go first,” I muttered, swinging Jace’s arm so that his own elbow nudged him in the side. He turned to give me a look, and I realized that he wasn’t able to hear me over the din. Remembering his brand of magic, I attempted to direct my thoughts his way. You’re the master of illusions, right? So go ahead.
He rolled his eyes, but I could see the hint of a strained smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Oh, and whatever happened to ‘ladies first?’
To hells with that! I threw my hands up, finally releasing both his and Venser’s in the process. Do you think I’m any good at sneaking?
Jace’s smile grew a little wider. Mmmm…guess not. Alright. Fine. I’ll go. But brace yourself.
For what? I thought, but then that rushing, ice-cold sensation washed over me again, and I saw a faint blue aura hover around Jace, Venser and I for a moment before our bodies all just…disappeared. The sight – or lack thereof, rather – was so startling that I stumbled back a step, and would have tumbled over had there not been someone’s chest to break my fall.
“That’s you, Rana, isn’t it?” came Venser’s voice, audible only because of its very close proximity to my ear.
I nodded before I realized that he couldn’t see it. “None other.” I wasn’t sure if he could hear me either, but it really didn’t matter, because at that point I realized that Jace was heading toward the fork, and the light. Now that I strained my eyes, I realized that I actually could see him – and myself and Venser too, but just our vague outlines. Jace, should we go with you?
No. I thought I saw him shake his head, his long hair bouncing against the sides of his face. I’ll only be a second. I just want to see what’s going on in there.
Somehow Jace must have been projecting his thoughts to Venser too, because suddenly I heard the artificer’s voice in my mind alongside the mage’s, clear as day. My teleport’s still ready, if we need to make a break for it.
Good. Without further pretense, Jace took that final step, around the corner and directly into the angry glow of the firelight.
Then he froze.
A knot of horror and nausea and dread curved in my stomach, threatening to cave it in on itself. I let out a quiet cry.
Venser flinched behind me in exact unison with that awful sensation, so I realized that whatever was happening to me, was happening to him, too.
“What’s…going on?” he gasped. His hands suddenly gripped my arms where they rested against him, a gesture that was at once protective and mortally afraid. I let him, sinking into his grasp.
Then the mage was there, fully visible, and Venser and I were both visible too, and Jace began to slide down the wall behind him as he struggled to catch his breath. He wasn’t the most sun-kissed of men in the first place, but his face was as pale as a sheet now – completely devoid of color.
“Exactly what I was afraid of,” he choked, and I saw his body shudder. “Look.”
And then there was an image floating in the air in front of us all – a gruesome spectacle of hundreds of writhing bodies, humans and goblins and ogres and who knew what else, twisting and contorting over themselves and one another as leather and steel flashed, and skin melded, and great drums beat in the background. Unearthly noises erupted from their throats as they sank their blades into one another’s flesh, sometimes dropping the unlucky sods to the ground in a quick death, other times retracting the weapons to leave gaping, dripping wounds that only seemed to drive the victim into a further frenzy. Nearly everyone’s faces were covered in blood. A hazy red glow seemed to emanate up from the stone floor of the massive chamber, and it bathed that horrifying scene in a light that made it all seem like a hell itself had risen, and was now merely a few yards away from the three of us.
“What,” I croaked, aghast, as I felt my legs trembling beneath me, “is that?!”
Jace waved a hand in front of him weakly, and the hovering image disappeared. A blood ritual. I’ve only heard of something like this happening once in history, when Izolda was appointed to guildmaster-in-chief…
But what does this mean? Venser’s hands were shaking where they held me, and I could hear the mix of desperation and horror in his thoughts. If they’ve only done it once, why are they doing it now?
Jace lifted his head to fix his gaze on each of us in turn. His eyes were wide, more so than I had ever seen them, and dark as a storm at sea.
Because, he thought, they’re celebrating Alanor’s rise to power. He’s their leader now. He finally brought them back together.
He REVIVED the damn cult.
Venser and I stood, motionless, and just stared down at Jace. I could tell that he was at as much of a loss as we were from the way he, in turn, stared straight ahead at the wall, unblinking.
I don’t know how we’re going to do this.
Do what? I gently pulled away from Venser, and knelt down beside Jace so that I could meet him at eye level. What are we supposed to be doing on this mission, anyway? Convincing Alanor, right?
Yes, Jace responded, lifting his gaze to meet mine as he did so. We were supposed to find out what he’s up to, and then get him alone so that we could persuade him to help us. We’ve got the first part down well enough, but…He shook his head. How in the nine hells are we supposed to get his attention in the middle of all THIS?
We could make a scene, Venser offered, and Jace and I turned to look up at him in unison.
What do you mean? I asked. Is there something we could---
Suddenly, I knew.
Guys, I thought, and I could hear my excitement resonating even in my own head. I think I’ve got it.
What? Jace’s eyes were fixed on me now.
I looked from Jace to Venser, then back to Jace again. Their expressions were both a mixture of puzzlement and curiosity. How big an illusion can you summon, Jace?
The mage laughed aloud. I could see his chest, rising and falling lightly as a wan smile twisted his lips for a moment. Pretty damn big. Why, what are you thinking?
I’m thinking, I continued, clasping my hands together in front of my face, that we can distract them with some kind of illusion. Something that’ll catch them off guard. We can take advantage of the chaos and slip in, and then find Alanor ourselves, if it doesn’t already bring him out from wherever he’s hiding.
Jace’s eyes lit up, and abruptly he reached out to seize me by the shoulders. Rakdos.
Venser and I thought the word in unison, and so Jace passed his gaze over each of us in turn. Rakdos. He’s the demon god the guild used to worship when it WAS still a guild, even though he’s apparently been dead for awhile. A guest appearance from him would be big enough to cause a stir, don’t you think?
Venser and I exchanged glances, and then I turned back to look at Jace. I could tell that my own eyes were starting to light up – For once, I actually contributed something!
Do you know what he looks like? I asked.
Jace nodded. I’ve seen plenty of drawings in history books. I think I can manage well enough.
Then do it, Venser urged. He took a step forward, closer to us, and I could see that his fingertips were starting to crackle with little sparks of gold light. Rana and I will back you up in case something goes wrong. We can all run in together.
Jace nodded again, and let out his breath in a deep sigh. Right. He stood, using the wall as a crutch, and I rose with him, and watched anxiously as the resolve built in his face. No sense in wasting time.
His body flashed blue as he made a sudden lunge for the entryway, and then disappeared.
There was a long pause.
Then, all at once, pandemonium ensued.
There was a bone-chilling, primal roar that shook the ground beneath our feet, and the entire chamber beyond erupted with a chorus of gasps and wails and shrieks of what sounded not like fear, but...
Screw it, I decided, and I rushed over to the entryway myself, poking my head around the curved corner of the stone wall.
The chamber was exactly as Jace’s projected illusion had shown it, only this time, there was no great tangle of bodies and blood – instead there was a towering, thousand-foot-tall, utterly terrifying demon, with horns curling about his massive head, and two incomprehensibly large wings unfolding from his back to encompass the entire cavern. Chains dripped from a plate on his chest like some sort of crudely fashioned armor, but they only contributed to his frightful appearance – that, and the fact that what had once been a crazed mass of revelers was now transformed into a devout congregation, throwing themselves face-first to the floor in a competition of ‘who-can-bow-the-deepest.’ Most of them were sobbing, screaming – but the sounds were passionate cries, sounds of lovers. I felt sick hearing it.
What is going on here?
Ranewen. Venser. Jace’s voice came into my head crisp and clear, though I couldn’t yet spot his blue outline anywhere in the room. This isn’t exactly the reaction I was expecting, so we’re going to have to just go---
But his statement was cut short, because suddenly a huge fireball rocketed itself straight through Jace’s illusion of Rakdos, shattering it – and then it continued onward, down toward the ground…straight toward me.
I couldn’t bring up any sort of barrier fast enough. All I could do was scream, and throw myself to the ground in some pathetic attempt to dodge the inevitable.
But instead of feeling a thousand tongues of white-hot flame engulfing me seconds later, I felt myself being lifted, pulled up off the ground by the collar of my leathers.
I was able to register the face of another man, inches away from mine, before my whole being imploded in a sensation of unimaginable terror.
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, couldn’t anything. All I could do was stare ahead, mouth open and gaping like a dead fish, as fear literally paralyzed my entire body, and then everything seemed to melt away. My brain registered that I was quaking violently, that tears were beginning to run down my face and that I was making little strangled noises like a dying animal, but there was nothing I could do beyond initial recognition – I was nothing, nothing among the ocean of dread and horror and everything that could go wrong in the world as it surged over me, drowned me---
But as abruptly as it had all begun, it just…ended. I was left gasping, reeling, struggling to make my eyes see and my lips work as the world came back into focus.
“Nnnngh…” I moaned. My tongue couldn’t form words yet, but I was slowly realizing that there was some sort of serrated blade being pressed to my throat, and that my throat hurt, and that the face that had been in front of me before was still there, wild-eyed and livid. I struggled to take in the details. Rough. Middle-aged. Pockmarked, and full of enough scars to have borne the brunt of several lifetimes’ worth of battles. Coarse, matted yellow-blond hair dangled over his face and down into his eyes. Altogether, he looked to be a rather unpleasant individual.
Then, suddenly, everything hit me. Blade. Angry man. Alanor. Jace. Jace. Venser. Where were they?
As if in answer to my unspoken question, a familiar voice let out a vicious snarl from beside me. “Let her go, dammit!”
My gaze shifted, and I sucked in a harsh breath when I saw Jace standing just a few feet away, the blade of a scythe held to his throat as a group of the revelers disengaged themselves from their stupor and surrounded him. Clear-headed – or as much so as they could get – now that their deity had been exposed as a hoax, they fixed him and I both with unflinching gazes, and drew their own weapons to fence him in.
Just then I realized that the one holding the long-handled scythe was the same man standing in front of me, and I felt a nauseating wave of dread.
Jace, I thought desperately. Jace, can you hear me?
I…nn…agh! Jace winced aloud, and his thoughts collapsed into racking sounds of pain that I could see he was trying to bite back, from the way his jaw clenched and his head drooped onto his chest. After a moment his shoulders slumped and he looked up – though when he met my gaze, panting, I could see a note of wild fear in his eyes. The sight startled me.
Ranewen, he nearly gasped, and I could sense the effort it was taking for him to even think straight. Alanor, he’s…he using some kind of fear aura. I can’t…I’m trying not to let it happen to me, too, what just happened to you---
No, I thought urgently, no, Jace, you can do this. You’re alright. Please, you’ve got to be---
“Well? Are you recovered enough to talk, or are you just going to stand there staring at him like a lovestruck fool?”
I looked up at Alanor, defiance in my gaze. I knew that there was a fine line now, knew it especially so as I watched dozens more revelers clamber to their feet and form a wide circle around us, and I knew that if I crossed it, I would die. Or worse – Jace would die. Or Venser. My eyes darted around the chamber frantically, searching for the artificer while I still had enough time to stall---
“Speak!” The jagged edges of the blade dug into my skin, eliciting an unbidden yelp.
“I…” My tongue felt thick, and my lips heavy. I wondered if I would even be able to speak. “I…I don’t know what you want from me.”
The man chuckled, an unusually high-pitched sound, and drew back enough so that he could comfortably adjust his grip on his scythe. I could see now that he wore an outfit similar to the patroller that had passed us far earlier, except the spikes that studded his leathers looked so sharp that they could easily pierce flesh. “I want information, wench. And you will give it to me. Now.” His other hand tightened on the hilt of his sword, and I winced as the blade shifted against me. “Who are the two of you, and why have you so rudely interrupted my lovely celebration?”
Two? My heart leapt in my chest, and I shared a brief look with Jace that told me everything I needed to know. I couldn’t ponder on it any longer though, lest I put a toe over that fine line.
“We’re…” I struggled to swallow. Here goes nothing. “We’re…planeswalkers. We just came to talk to you, Alanor, not to---”
“Silence!” I cried out a little as the blade dug deeper into my flesh, drawing blood this time. His voice came out in a threatening hiss. “You think that speaking of power will sway me, and save you from your punishment? Tch. Not likely.” His fingers drummed against the hilt of the sword for a moment, and then he leaned in close, a sickly smile spreading across his lips. He nudged my chin up with the back of his gauntlet. “No…not unless you have something to offer.”
Jace growled then, and the sound shot straight to my gut.
Stop it, I pleaded, forcing my gaze to stay on Alanor and his steel-grey eyes. You’re just going to piss him off!
I don’t care, he snapped back. I can read his thoughts. And I don’t like them.
What’s he thinking?
Trust me, you don’t want to know.
A shudder of dread and revulsion coursed through me, and now I had to struggle to speak past the lump forming in my throat. “We could offer you money, or protection, or…pretty much any other kind of resource you could want, really. We just want your help for something, that’s all---”
“Help?” Alanor seemed to have a fondness for interrupting, and he also had a fondness for doing so by pressing the flat of his blade against my throat with such force that it cut off my air. I made a cross between a squeak and a cough when he did it this time. “And what could little worms like you possibly think I might deign to help you with?”
I choked. “There’s…a force.” I tried not to wince at the tightness in my chest from lack of air, but it wasn’t easy. “A group of monsters called the Eldrazi. They’re destroying the plane of Zendikar, killing everything – and they can travel through the Blind Eternities, so once they’re finished there, they’ll be able to come here. If they do, then they’ll---aaahhh!”
This time, he pushed harder with the blade than before, and let the jagged edges dig into the soft skin below my jaw. It hurt. It hurt, spirits damn it…
“And why,” he rumbled, “do you think I care?”
I could only stare at the man, dumbstruck. Even the pain eased up a little in the face of my shock, and then he was pulling back on the pressure to let me speak again, and it was another moment before I could find the words. “I…” I shook my head, flashing Jace a glance out of the corner of my eye. When I did, I saw that he looked equally taken aback. “You’ve got to understand – If they make their way to Ravnica, they will kill everything---”
“Well then they and I,” Alanor interrupted again, voice quiet, “have an interest in common.” He licked his lips. “I will welcome them.” There was a pause, and then, suddenly, I noticed how his eyes gleamed dangerously as they stared into mine – and one moment later, I realized how utterly mad they looked. How mad he looked. “Let the killing come.”
There’s no reasoning with him, Ranewen, Jace’s voice said in my mind, and I could hear a note of panic rising in his thoughts. He’s completely gone. I’m only reading his surface thoughts right now, and gods, he really believes what he’s saying…!
No, I nearly wailed back. Come on, you’ve got to be kidding! People like that aren’t supposed to exist!
Well HE does, the mage responded gravely. His mind’s a mess. I’ve never seen anything like this. It honestly looks like something chewed him up and spat him out…
“If that’s all the reason you have for me to let you live,” the mad planeswalker drawled, abruptly cutting Jace and I off from our collective thoughts, “then I must say, I’m rather disappointed.” He clucked his tongue, and the sound, along with the way his grip tightened on his weapons, sent my heart seizing with panic. It resumed its beating, double-time, when the blade at my throat began to move – slowly – slicing a thin, stinging line into my skin.
At once I remembered the way Sorin’s blade had cut me there too, and I let out a brief cry before I could stop myself.
“What a shame.” Alanor’s eyes narrowed. A wide, wicked grin curved to fill what seemed like his entire face. “Two young planeswalkers, delivered directly to my doorstep – and right in their prime, no less!” He chuckled, and his arm muscles clenched in preparation for the killing blows he was about to perform. I wondered desperately then whether I should just try to cast something, anything in an attempt to save our lives – But the question was, would I be able to do it fast enough?
“Too bad I’m going to just have to kill them both.”
Suddenly, there was a loud pop that echoed against the walls of the chamber.
“Not if I have anything to say about it, you arrogant piece of s***.”
My heart soared at the sound of the voice, and beside me I heard Jace let out a triumphant shout that echoed my own sentiments.
“Venser!” I yelled.
Alanor snarled and spun, but by some awful grace he managed to keep his weapons held perfectly in position. I didn’t have enough room to crane my neck around him, but out of the corner of my eye I could see the crowd around us tensing, twisting to look in every direction for the source of the voice – and in that moment I realized how outnumbered we were, to the point of where there wasn’t even any room for Venser to teleport close if he wanted to grab us.
But then, suddenly, there was another pop, and the sword against my throat simply vanished.
I barely had time to register my surprise before everything around me went to hells.
I heard Jace screaming my name first, and then he was swiftly drowned out by the roaring of the crowd as they began to surge toward Alanor – who himself was screaming too, calling out for Venser to show himself and spewing various epithets like rapidfire. I sidestepped, scooting along the wall and out of Alanor’s reach to find the mage – but before I could make a move toward him, I lost him in the tide of rushing bodies.
Jace! I cried. I ran straight into the flow, ducking around shoulders and beneath arms that were, unbelievably, paying me no heed. I didn’t understand why they weren’t trying to kill me – Perhaps they felt some insane need to protect their leader, above all else? It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to ask questions. This turn of events was to my benefit, and I was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Especially not when my life was at stake.
“Fools! Idiots! Imbeciles! You’re letting them get away! What are you doing?! Get away from me, get---stop them!”
Epic, many great deals in this story.
I couldn't help but astonished at extremely sinister appearance of Sheoldred, ominous fate of Elspeth and her recovery, Koth's ｔaciturnity and dependableness, and many many scenes.
However...oh,Venser did you forget your unrequited love with Jhoira of the Ghitu? lol
From fangirl(but cannot call myself that word in my age :uhh:) point of view, I cannot help but grin at when Jace behaved boyishly. He and Venser are both seem to be familiarly, but I'm attracted to his unreadable emotion and expression. It's mysterious, interesting thing. Then I noticed that his long blade significantly worn, and he handle it carefully. This descriptions call his old best friend to my mind.
Well, this proves it. You can do everything. Comedy? Check. Action? Check. Drama? Check. Gut Wrenching horror? Mega check.
Your depiction of one of my fav demons, even if it was just an illiusion, worked wonders. The back and forth between Jace and Venser was superb, and the nutty cult leader was perfect. I hope the cultists in Innistraid are half as good as that guy.
And...well...looking at that last part...I get the idea we're gonna see why the Rakdos were so dangerous, to others and themselves.
Thank you for the kind words, Tomo! It's really great to hear your opinion on everything, since I know you've read a lot of the books and that you know the characters very well. I'm glad I'm still staying true to them!
Haha, yeah, I've had a LOT of fun writing Jace lately (especially in this past chapter). He has several different sides to him, so I can bring out each of them whenever it's most appropriate - boyish side included.
I'm also glad you noticed my little insertion of Kallist's sword. I wasn't sure if anyone would!
But as far as Venser goes - Yeah, he definitely did like Jhoira in the beginning of the Time Spiral cycle...But when I read through the rest of the books, I got the impression that he got over her when he realized that she and Jodah had a thing. He seems to have a more platonic relationship with her after that point, so in my head-canon I just took it all to be your typical ol' teenage crush. Hope no one hates me for that!
And Dark Fire: THANK YOU, TOO! I am supremely happy that I'm doing this right. I knew it was a bit of a gamble, dipping my toes into the waters of the guilds when I haven't even read the Ravnican cycle yet...But hey! If I have your approval, then that's all the affirmation I need.
I'm also glad you noticed my little insertion of Kallist's sword. I wasn't sure if anyone would!
Oh, I couldn't help but notice that thing! I really love their relationship in AoA.
I like the setting that Jace good at sword-fighting thanks to Kallist's memory and it has the limit by a his physical problem.
It would be greatly appreciated if it could be seen in your story.
By the way, what is his former master doing now?
But as far as Venser goes - Yeah, he definitely did like Jhoira in the beginning of the Time Spiral cycle...But when I read through the rest of the books, I got the impression that he got over her when he realized that she and Jodah had a thing. He seems to have a more platonic relationship with her after that point, so in my head-canon I just took it all to be your typical ol' teenage crush.
I got you ☆（ゝω・）v
Venser is not only good looking guy but also good heart guy...oh, he gave ultimate sacrifice to save for Karn...
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Sorry for my poor English.
From Japan with love \('-'*)