Points of Brilliance 6: Playing With Fire
Originally posted Dec 8, 1995
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At that point, poisoned and alone, I grasped desperately at my threads, trying to find a spell to save me from the goblin army. I seized upon an island sanctuary, but the effort in calling it around me was too much. I passed out with Ariel's name upon my lips.
When I awoke, I found myself back in Sablemorn, in the infirmary. Ariel lay sleeping in the bed next to mine. She looked well, but exhausted by some trick of the other planewalker. She would recover, I thought. I used a long-unused spell to burn the poison from my veins, though it was not without cost under the best of circumstances.
Ariel's cousin Melissa had been holding vigil over us. It seemed that it had not been very long since we were brought in, fortunately. She was surprised to find out now that I was not human, even though she had heard of it before, from the other planewalker. He had somehow wormed his way into the good graces of the head of one of the mighty merchant houses that spanned the plane. He had been healed there from the grievous wounds my angels and demons had given him. It seemed that they had imprisoned Melissa, her friend Sandy, and a good cleric of one of the plane's major religions one night. Then they had erased the memory of it from the two women, and tricked this cleric Tobias into working with them, to catch me. It seemed that the planewalker had convinced this Tobias that he was a fellow servant of his god, and that I was a minion of his god's enemy. This cleric tried to kill me there, in my house. I could laugh, had the planewalker not stooped to misguiding a holy man to be his unwitting pawn. I called the angel Anastasia, who convinced him of the truth. A surprisingly powerful man for a non-planewalker, this Tobias. He had manifested a power over other minds after witnessing my battle with the other planewalker. I wished to gain his services, but alas, it was not to be. But that is another story. You wished to hear of the other planeswalker.
I rushed though the hallways of Sablemorn, with Melissa and Tobias trailing along behind me. I'm afraid that they had become hopelessly lost, as Sablemorn was not built by human hand. It continues to be built and rebuilt by its own hand, nowadays.
We passed the kitchen, as Sablemorn tends to send people where they need to be. More of Ariel's friends stepped out of it, almost running into me.
"Miles!" said the shorter one, who goes by the name of Sandy. I had only seen her a couple times. "You're... different."
"No time to explain that, Sandy. I must prepare to defend Sablemorn."
"Wow, he's really cool!" I heard Sandy say behind me.
"Hands off, he's Ariel's," Melissa replied.
"Where is she?"
"Still back in the infirmary. She'll be all right. Hey! Miles, wait!"
I paused long enough for Melissa, Sandy, Tobias and the other woman, Selina, to catch up. "Look, I have to do this alone. He will squash you like insects if you attempt to do anything. Stay here." I turned to go.
"But you said that Ariel saved your life last time!" called Melissa.
I turned to face her. "Indeed she did. But she's a better sorcerer than you are."
"She is?" asked Sandy. "Could have fooled me."
I sighed. "Since every one of you seems to have seen the other battle, the one I almost lost, you will remember a lightning bolt. That was Ariel's. Now, can any of you cast lightning bolts?"
They shook their heads.
"All right then. Stay here, where it's safe. I can handle myself."
I stood on the ramparts of Sablemorn, for it now had become like a fortress, to protect against the planewalker. There he was, standing a ways back in the darkness upon the front grounds, lit up in my magical sight with the power of his magic.
"Ha! So you make an appearance!" he called, words I heard clearly despite the distance.
"Indeed, I am here, despite your cowardly attempts on my life. Can you not fight like a man?"
"Bah! You are no man! You are a petty thief, the spawn of a nonhuman!"
"True, I am no human, but I am not a thief, nor have I been petty for a thousand years."
"Idle talk! Return what you have stolen!"
"I have stolen nothing from you, except possibly your hand, I see. And that was lost fairly in battle."
"I care little for fairness, prepare to die!" He waved with his remaining hand, and sent a fireball roiling towards me. Fortunately, I had prepared a circle for this, and it turned the flames aside with little effect. "Ah, you make this difficult. So much more delicious the victory."
"You make a mistake, mage. You challenge a planewalker on his home territory." I stretched out my hand, and a fissure opened under him. He clawed at the edge for a moment, futilely, before being swallowed up. The fissure closed again.
Joshua Solace appeared at my side as I leaned against the rampart, breathing heavily from the exertion. The poison had left me weak, still. "Good job," he said.
"Damn you, Solace! You left me in the woods to die! I, your master!"
"Life sucks, doesn't it? Don't take me for granted, I'm not one of your brainless zombies."
"You ever try something like that again, and you will be a brainless zombie! I came this close to dying! To goblins, as sad and pathetic as that is."
"Ah, but you didn't. Who saved you?"
I was spared from answering the question (as I didn't know, but it seemed that Solace had returned to save me and Ariel) by the sorcerer's reappearance, which I had expected. Something as simple as several tons of rock can't usually stop a planewalker. The ground exploded upward, and he slowly, painfully floated out of the hole. I nodded and jerked my head at him. Solace grinned evilly and leapt down. He was about to pound the exhausted planewalker in the face when several fiery horned hounds appeared between them, pouncing on Solace and driving him to the ground.
Solace dispatched one easily, standing as he tossed its carcass aside. "You call this a challenge, mage?" he said as he broke the back of another. "Give me a real opponent."
"As you wish, undead." He gestured, and suddenly, Solace found that he couldn't break the skin of the next beast he was trying to drink of. He flung it away, but the others leapt on him again, and now I saw that he was being overrun. I attempted to grip their hearts, but could not.
"More of your trickery, I see," I said. "You have no honor, beguiling the good folk of this realm."
"It's only some small mental prestidigitation, thief. And I would not call the folk of this dark plane good."
"There may be something in what you say." I called through my mental link to Anastasia downstairs, and she quickly appeared at my side. I cloaked her in protection against the magic of the mountains. As she assisted Solace dispatch the beasts, I worked to call forth more of my minions. As did the other planewalker.
"Nice doggies," commented Solace as he kicked the last hound to the side, blood dripping down his chin. Then he was knocked aside by a small bluish drake that had come on him from behind. "Hmm, the last dragon was delicious. Come here, lizard." He launched himself into the air, grabbed one of the drake's horns, and kept going. He planted its head into the ground behind its back. A swift punch, and its neck snapped. He paused to feed.
Anastasia plowed past some dragons, who attempted unsuccessfully to burn her to a crisp, and hacked at the planewalker with a great battle cry. He mainly dodged her blow, but a trickle of blood ran now down his maimed right arm. "Remember this, angel?" he hissed, and a large engine of destruction appeared beside him.
"Not the Dragon Engine..." she shuddered, thinking of her death from its fiery breath during our last encounter. But she kept her composure, slaying a dragon as it attempted to close with me. I enveloped the engine with the power of the plains, and it fell swiftly apart as its central guiding force was dispelled. Then, as my opponent dodged the falling metal, I sent my new creatures in: some skeletons and slimy creatures that I had pulled out of the murk of the nearby swamps. They slammed into him with great force, burying him under bones and slime.
But he broke free, and retreated slightly from the creatures that followed him. Solace finished his meal and did the same. Anastasia hung back and slew another of the dragons that raged forward at me. The others found me an inviting target, except for the fact that my circle of protection deflected them at the last minute. I removed the will to fight from one of them, and it flew off, never to be seen again.
It was then that the planewalker brought forth a disk that he tossed on the ground. It quickly spun to a frightening speed, and grew in size. Anastasia and Solace recognized it, and I think that even my barely sentient land-bound minions had an idea of its power. I caused them to press the assault forward, while I channeled the power of the plains to destroy the disk before it could be activated. But the planewalker disrupted the thrust with some of his blue magics.
He had not counted on my gremlins, however. I called them from their hiding places, and they leapt up into the disk, causing it to wobble and slow. It was not destroyed, however, merely kept unusable by the tinkering of the gremlins. I needed to find a way to destroy it, for the power of Nevinryrral's Disk is the power of massive destruction. I would not let that occur this close to my home. The planewalker howled in rage.
"Zelnastine," I spoke, though I was quickly tiring from the use of magic. She appeared next to me, serrated sword already unlimbered.
"Yes, master?" she asked, though she already knew the answer.
"Zelnastine, kill." I indicated the planewalker hiding behind the ruins of his Dragon Engine, as I blessed her with wards against the creatures of the mountains and islands.
"My pleasure." The fallen angel vaulted into the air and howled an ethereal scream as she zeroed in at the planewalker. Skeletons and swamp dwellers exploded into flame as she took their essences to boost her own. The planewalker was dead...
Except that at the last minute a parody of a man, made of straw and cloth, appeared from behind the Engine. The angel hesitated, then pulled up sharply, never coming close to the planewalker. I cursed. He had found.a magical scarecrow, one that commanded the attention of even angels. The dragons again crested the wall, but I kept them off with my circle. This planewalker was good, almost too good in my weakened state.
I attempted again to break the disk, and this time it fell apart on the ground, scattering the gremlins as it fell. They eagerly picked themselves up and loped over to the scarecrow, longing to pull it apart. They never made it.
I felt the planewalker begin pulling in large amounts of mana, and I feared the worst. It came. A roiling inferno blossomed from him, lighting the night as it went. The gremlins and scarecrow were tossed back and consumed, as were the rest of my skeletons. Fortunately, so were the dragons as well. Solace disappeared into the flames, but I thought he was powerful enough now to survive. My two angels had protection from the flames, so I did not fear for them. And I hid behind my circle, smirking at the lunacy of casting this spell now. I soon felt the touch of the flames, for he had somehow caused my circle to malfunction. The blast knocked me back, charred, upon the roof. I groaned in agony.
He must have followed the wave of flame in past my distracted minions, as he appeared, standing over me. "So, the great Greymantle falls to some simple fire."
I groaned again, and tried to cast another spell, but he grounded my mana sources. "So, you now have me defenseless. That is what you wanted."
"Yes, a sweet victory over you, thief. Now to finish it off..." He never finished the sentence as Anastasia came up behind him and plowed her sword through his chest. Blood bubbled from his mouth.
"Sweet victory, indeed," I said, rising to my feet slowly. "Do you yield?"
I pulled my finger across my throat, but Anastasia disappeared as another one, along with her sister, alighted on the roof behind the wounded planewalker. I comprehended what had happened. Sablemorn had created one of its phantoms to save my life, when my angels were too far away to help. I mentally thanked my home.
I motioned, and the angels came forward to deliver the coup de grace, but the slumped planewalker uttered one last curse in a language I dimly recalled, and disappeared. I briefly considered pursuing him on his planewalk, but I was too drained from the duel. I slumped to the roof, and I felt Anastasia's comforting arms carry me back to the infirmary. With my last ounce of will, I locked the angels' summons, so that they would not disappear with my consciousness.
"Will he be all right, like Ariel?" asked a voice I recognized as Sandy.
"Sure, we're still here, right?" replied the rough voice of Solace.
"Is that what would happen, Mr. Vampire sir? If he died, you would disappear?"
"Go back to our homes, yes. Our summonings would be canceled. As would our contracts."
"You want a new contract, Solace?" I croaked without opening my eyes. "You didn't get enough blood this day?"
"I was merely telling her the facts, Greymantle."
"Indeed. You seem to always be the most reluctant servitor."
"But enthusiastic in my own way."
"A little much, sometimes." I opened my eyes and looked around. Solace, Sandy and Melissa were gathered around my bed in the infirmary. "Ariel?"
"She's awake," said Melissa. "But she wanted some time to herself."
"The planewalker has not come back?"
"Boss, I saw the sword that was stuck through him, and that's a mortal wound on a normal mortal."
"Yes, but he's not a normal mortal, is he, Solace?" I asked, struggling to a sitting position.
"Might he ever be back, Miles?" asked Melissa seriously.
"I think that he might, once he recovers. But that should be a while. He's still a hand short from our previous encounter. We can thank Zelnastine for that. Where is she?"
"She's watching the grounds, Greymantle. The police are beginning to stick their noses into things. But there is Nobody Home."
I sighed. "My beautiful grounds. At least Sablemorn should be able to heal its damage, given time."
"That's pretty neat, Miles," said Sandy. "Oh, no, my car is somewhere out there!"
"I'm not sure if it survived the inferno, but if it didn't, I think that I can handle getting you another. I appreciate the concern you showed for me and Ariel."
"That is not a problem, Miles," replied Melissa. "She's just about my only relative left."
"Oh? Your cousin was your only concern?"
"Well, and you, of course. Only I've hardly ever saw you."
"I think that we'll be seeing more of each other in the future."
"And why is that?"
"This has helped me make a decision. I've never done it before, because, well, I'm too long-lived for non-planewalkers. But I'm going to ask her to... What is the word here? I want her to marry me."
Melissa looked stunned, and Sandy started dancing around in what I understand is her normal mode of locomotion. Solace just winked at me. "But..." began Melissa.
"I'm not human? So? There's more in the planiverse than humans. Besides, first I have to get her to say yes."
It was so that I resolved to marry a mortal, a human, whose normal lifespan would be a fraction of my own even were I not able to walk the planes. I resolved to do it there on Scintilla, in the fashion of her people. I fashioned what they call an engagement ring from precious metals and gems that came from my collection, using the magic of the dwarven mountains to shape it. It was then I searched for my love, in order to ask her the question. Sablemorn obliged, guiding me to her. I knocked on the door to the observatory, where one can see all the stars on a clear night, such as this one.
"Come. Who is it?"
"It is I, Miles."
"You're recovered!" she called, running up and hugging me.
"Indeed. How are you?"
"I'm much better now that I've rested. It's amazing how clear the sky is tonight, look." With one arm around my waist, she pointed up at the stars.
"It's beautiful, as are you." She smiled, flattered. "I have come to ask you a very important question."
"What's for dinner?"
"No, something else. I guess that this is traditionally done on one knee." I did so, then proffered the small box that contained the ring. "I want to spend my life with you. Will you be my wife?"
Ariel, dumbfounded, took the box with shaking hands and opened it. She slipped the ring out and put it on her finger. "It's beautiful. You made this tonight?"
"How lovely, and sad." She brought her leg up and kicked me in the chin, toppling me over backwards. "Your final work. Well, it'll make up a little for your crimes. "You're a fool, Greymantle, you can't even see though a simple deception. You may have vanquished Zivo, but I will finish the job." She produced a dagger and began to stab at me as I scrambled backward.
"Not your precious Ariel, although Zivo will be happy to find out about this little marriage idea."
I continued trying to block the dagger, but still I bled. In an act of desperation that netted me a gash on my neck while I concentrated, I pulled on one of the swamps outside and paralyzed her. She fell stiff beside me. I paused long moments, regaining my composure. Then I examined the woman beside me. Outwardly, her aura was Ariel's, but there were no indications that she was controlled. That is, until I went deeper.
"Zivo! I'm coming to get you!" I raged, shaking my fist at the cold sky. "No one replaces my love with a clone and lives!" I searched, and finally found that yes, the real Ariel was still on Scintilla. I would find and save her, then this Zivo would pay in blood.
To be continued....
And, as promised, here is your free card...
Counter target enchantment effect, which must have an activation cost.
This enchantment cannot be activated until its controller's next upkeep.
Starting then and until the controller's following upkeep, this
enchantment's activation cost is reduced by up to <1>.
"Luck ebbs and flows, you didn't know that?" - Tandalus Zivo, Caelix
|Copyright © 1997 Tim Bailey|
The terms "Dragon Engine" and "Nevinryrral's Disk" are property of Wizards of the Coast. The rest of "Points of Brilliance Part 6: Playing With Fire" is Copyright 1995 by Timothy Bailey. All rights reserved. This story may not be distributed for profit, with the exception of the normal charges for online time.