Points of Brilliance 7: House of Cards
Originally posted Dec 14, 1995
Stay tuned after the story for a brand new Magic card!
Ariel's cousin Melissa disturbed me as I found that the woman I had just proposed to was a clone of my love Ariel. I do not know how Melissa did it, but her timing was fortuitous for her. As I imagined that there would be little resistance in the true Ariel's rescue (now that the other planewalker Tandalus Zivo had fled the plane), I decided to bring Melissa along.
Leaving the clone paralyzed on the floor of Sablemorn's observatory, I reached into a plane where dreams were much more real than in Scintilla, and summoned the Nightmare called Firenza. She came enthusiastically, and both Melissa and I mounted Firenza's bare back for the journey.
I could not planewalk directly to Ariel, as I had never established a link to her. I never wished to put her on the same level as one of my minions. But, she always wore a necklace I had given her, one that I could detect with my magical senses. I did not have a link to that, either, though, because it was hers, not mine. I regretted that then, but there was nothing to do but follow the trail. It led back into the city I had fled from earlier the same night. But now Zivo (I had learned his name from the clone's words) was gone, fleeing from Scintilla, mortally wounded.
Melissa had her arms around my waist in order to keep her seat, though Firenza would not have let us fall. She is a creature made partly of darkness itself, and only barely physical. But because of this, she could bear those she deigned to without bit or bridle. We would be safe. Still, Melissa held on in discomfort at the height, and more than once it felt like my lost love Ariel was there behind me. Ariel's mother is the younger sister of Melissa's lost father, and it is not hard to tell the relation.
"Miles? What are those?" she asked as we flew above the city's outskirts. The necklace lay somewhere in the center of the city.
I turned my gaze to where she pointed. From among the tall towers of the city came some metal beings... No, they were human, wearing armor. Armor that allowed them to fly. It was not bulky like the armor I had seen in other planes, which had made me mistake their nature at first, before I viewed their auras. This armor was one of the pinnacles of the artificers' art in Scintilla, I guessed. No matter.
Their purpose was obvious: stopping me. They arrayed themselves to hinder my course, though I ignored them at first. Firenza is a swift steed, and nothing mortal can overtake her when she is galloping flat out. My purpose was to rescue Ariel, not to cause more destruction in this plane.
But they were well-armed. Slugs of metal ripped into Firenza, flung by the first human, whose armor I saw was colored like the stripes of a tiger. Firenza faltered in her flight, but was able to stay airborne. Before I could cast a spell, one of the others let loose several small metallic fairy-like things, that flew unerringly at me. I interposed a force field, that turned back most of the blast, for these fairies exploded upon contact. We were singed, however, and Melissa's arms became almost chokingly tight around my stomach. I urged Firenza higher, in order to cloud their aim and buy me some time. They followed, slugs pinging off of the force field.
"What... what could they want?" asked Melissa, breath stolen away by the sudden attack and climb.
"Me, it seems. Zivo was clever. But they will pay dearly, too." Firenza could climb faster than the armored group, I found. When we reached a certain height, I ordered Firenza to hold. She did so, nervously kicking at the air below her hooves.
Another flight of the fairy-things sped up at us, but Firenza nimbly sidestepped, and they detonated around a bog imp I had cloaked in illusion to resemble me. I saved it from the flames, and sent it charging past our four assailants. Three of them followed it, fooled by its appearance, but the fourth continued her upward flight. Once again, metal slugs caused Firenza to snort in pain. I uttered a single word, and she started falling, bound by magic. Odd, black and white stripes, I thought. How much like me.
My attackers disposed of, I nudged Firenza onwards. The city was now a small cluster of bright lights below us, but I used my senses to detect the necklace. I hesitated a moment when I found that it was directly below us, then gave the nightmare the order to dive. No sooner had we started when an explosion I had not anticipated separated the three of us. I now fell uncontrollably. I cursed the four in the armor. Did they realize whose side they were on? Now, they would be destroyed.
First, the heavens lit up in a brilliant ray, and the angel Anastasia appeared off to my right. She dove to catch Melissa, as I ordered. Without sparing a moment to monitor her success, as the ground was rushing up much too fast, I called her sister, Zelnastine.
"Oh, you're falling? How familiar," said the fallen angel.
"As you wish." She grabbed me in her arms, and impeded our downward progress.
I now reached for Firenza, and I felt the nightmare explode as the fallen angel took her life force. "Zelnastine!"
There was an explosion nearby, but she shielded me from most of the blast. "What? You want a horse, or your life?"
Ignoring her, I reached out with my senses and found that Anastasia had indeed caught Melissa, and was dropping down to a rooftop, and that the four armored humans were split between us. More fairy-things were launched, but I made them lose their way by creating a total darkness in the area. By the time the darkness lifted, I had summoned two more servants: the vampire Joshua Solace, and the angel Rythelda. Rythelda is a different sort of angel than Anastasia or Zelnastine. Besides their martial ability, her ancient order is also known for their magic. Rythelda folded her wings and dived after the humans who followed Anastasia and Melissa, while Solace stood in midair with arms crossed, blocking my assailants. He grabbed one as she passed, dragging her down, while the other homed in on us with a sword drawn. Odd, this was the same one whom I had bound before. I tapped into the mana of the islands, and leapt from Zelnastine's arms, freeing her to engage the human.
I slowed my fall with the mana of the air, and lightly touched down on top of one of the towers. I then cloaked myself from view. Useful, this blue magic, I thought. Useful and devious. Zivo had used it to great effect against me. I paused to find how the battle went. Each of my servants was dueling with one of the armored humans, keeping them busy. Good, it was time for me to slip away to find Ariel. I was much calmer, now that I knew that Melissa was unharmed and Zivo's minions occupied. I found from Anastasia which building it was that Melissa stood on, and called a winged horse to bear me there.
Melissa ran up and hugged me tightly when I first appeared, obviously frightened from the plunge. But she quickly regained her composure. "Are you all right, Miles?" she asked matter-of-factly, as she worked some of the wind-induced kinks from her auburn hair.
"Yes, as well as can be expected. Let us follow the necklace."
Glancing at what could be seen of the ongoing battle, she asked, "What about them?"
"They can handle themselves. It is time to leave."
"Does this happen often?" she asked, as I mounted the pegasus and extended a hand to help her up. "This sudden, senseless violence?"
"Not often, Melissa. That is what I like about this plane, its seclusion. I rarely have to fight for my life. Never, that is, before a week ago. Now we must go." She acquiesced and I swung her up behind me.
The winged stallion I now rode was no substitute for the nightmare we had started our journey on, but there was little distance to go. The necklace and Ariel were near, very near.
"The Starbright Tower!" called Melissa over the beating of wings, as we approached a well-lit tower of steel and glass with a great symbol of three circles on the side.
"Yes, that is the tower. What do you know of it?"
"That was where we were imprisoned for a night! The CEO is in league with the sorcerer!"
"Perhaps, then, I am not finished." As we approached, I saw that some of the windows had been blown outward by some sort of blast. I ignored it, as it was likely watched more carefully than elsewhere. If this person had allied himself with the planewalker, perhaps he might have left some other tricks behind. I resolved to enter by the roof.
The pegasus dropped us off at the roof, close to the still form of a flying vehicle. We were cloaked in illusion, in order to fool the protections of the tower. As I looked around the front of the vehicle, I saw that the doorway leading down was guarded by two soldiers. I disposed of them by stilling their hearts in fright.
"Miles! Are you going to go around killing everyone?" Melissa whispered.
"They would do no less."
"You don't know that."
"Oh? And these are the people who imprisoned you, and took your memories?"
"That was Zivo and the CEO, Wilcox. Everyone else was just following orders. Those two are the only ones I want to hurt bad."
"You... are much more forgiving than I am, Melissa."
"The dead haven't twisted my mind."
"That may be true. There is a stain on my soul, from even before I became a necromancer. But let it not be said that I am not honorable. I will only kill those who seek to kill me. Is this fair?"
"Good. Now I must protect you from those who will attempt to take our lives, for I am sure that there are those below us." I called upon the power of the islands again, and a shimmering cloak appeared in my arms. "Wear this cloak. It will provide protection." Melissa wordlessly wrapped the cloak around her shoulders.
As we slunk across the open area to the door, I felt a pain in my head. I searched my connections for the source. "I hope that you are satisfied. Anastasia is dead," I whispered.
"Come, we have other things to accomplish." We reached the door, and I found it locked. I considered things a moment, before I summoned Giovanni, a taciturn man who was skilled at solving problems such as these. He silently saluted me as he appeared out of the shadows, and set to work on the door. It was soon open, and I led the way inside.
The way was dimly lit. Giovanni and Melissa followed close behind me, as I carefully picked my way along. Suddenly, I felt flames licking around me and fell to the ground, but quickly realized that it was Zelnastine that had fallen in flames. Not the familiar (to her) flames of the Pit, but powerful nonetheless. I wondered at the power of these armored opponents, who had bested two of my angels in combat. I called on Solace and Rythelda to leave the combat, but they held on a a few moments until Solace was engulfed in flames as well, and Rythelda was blinded by her own blood. When they were able to see again, their opponents were gone, apparently fled. I hoped for good. With a twist of their threads, I pulled them to me.
"The sisters... They're dead," I informed them, still somewhat shocked from witnessing their deaths.
"I know, boss," said Solace, looking severely singed, but essentially unhurt. "That fallen angel chick made a good bonfire, heh."
"Do not worry, master," said Rythelda in a military tone of voice. "They died bravely."
"I know, I felt it. Don't speak as if they will never be back, it will just take a while."
"This is a curious sort of army that recycles its dead with little effort."
"As you've said before," I said, standing up.
"And who is this maiden?" asked the angel. "She seems passing familiar."
"She's the cousin of your mistress. Protect her, as her death would likely be permanent."
"I see. What is the objective?"
"Kicking some corporate butt," said Solace, cracking his knuckles. "Those women were hired by Starbright, I can feel it. Only the corps hire those mercenaries, and which other one is worried about you just now?"
"You... you know about them?" asked Melissa.
"Yes, they're not common knowledge, but I have connections. They're better than I expected."
"No freelance killing of them, Solace," I said. "Our young friend here is a bit squeamish about that sort of thing."
"Oh? I'm not. What's the problem?"
Melissa cut in. "They were just duped by the real villains here, Zivo and Wilcox. Leave them alone."
"I have a weakness for cute girls. Fine, Missy."
"Well, I guess it's time to head out..." said Solace.
"Take point, Solace," I ordered. "Melissa, he's like that. If he weren't so useful, I think I would have to release him."
"The sooner the better."
"Say, Rythelda, you aren't so bad looking yourself. What you say we go drinking after we beat up Wilcox?" I head Solace say from up ahead.
"I do not traffic with the undead, foul one."
"Too bad, I could teach you something. Say, what about those guys you keep on bringing back to life?"
"That is merely to achieve my martial objectives, not to satisfy any carnal desires."
"Too bad. We-" I forced my will upon Solace, and he became quiet, though he made his displeasure known through our mental connection.
We went through the tower, taking the dimly-lit stairs downward. I led Solace through our connection, with the angel close behind, with her sword drawn. I followed her at a good distance, with Melissa just behind me, and Giovanni skulking behind her.
Just after we passed a door marked "46," it clanged open and two soldiers leapt out, using their slug-throwers to attack us. I felt Giovanni, the closest, fall under the hail of slugs. Melissa slammed up against the wall, totally untouched. I was the next, and was knocked down to the next landing by the force of the metal. As I lay there in pain, I felt Rythelda breezing over me, and heard the screams of the soldiers as she cut them down. Solace whistled tunelessly as he more slowly followed. But she was knocked back over the railing by the next flight of metal slugs, as there were more soldiers behind the door. She landed badly, one of her wings broken, but she began chanting. I felt the soldiers she had cut down slowly standing up, shocked that they still moved after death. Rythelda ordered them to open fire upon their former compatriots, and they did so with glee.
Solace finally reached the doorway and strolled through after the raised soldiers. Through his eyes, I saw the soldiers' terror at seeing their fellows rise after death. And then there was Solace, who was now a horrible parody of a living man in his charred state. He leapt around the dead soldiers and brought down another, feasting on his blood. The others broke, racing away in terror. Rythelda did not send her thralls after them.
I picked myself up, and removed the metal slugs from my back with a touch of white magic. I needed a new coat, it seemed from recent events, but that could wait until later. I went to attend to Rythelda's wing, but she would have none of it. "I will survive, master. You need to remain at top power in order to deal with the inhabitants of this tower."
"What about your top condition?"
"It is of little consequence. I feel I will not need the ability of flight for this mission. All else is well."
"If you say so." I went back up, passing unfortunate Giovanni's twisted body. I went through the door and saw Melissa staring in disbelief at the vampire still feeding upon the dead soldier. Rythelda's thralls stood at attention, their slug-throwers leaning against their shoulders.
"Solace! Joshua Solace! Stop! We're going now!"
He paused, looking at me in annoyance, then dropped the body and stood. "You are no fun, boss."
Soon after, we resumed our downward trek, me probing ahead for Ariel's necklace. It was near. I guessed that the alarm would be raised now, now that several soldiers had seen us. I was not far from wrong. A slight hissing sound began, and Melissa began coughing.
"Boss! Gas attack!" called Solace. "Good thing I don't need to breathe," he added as an aside to Rythelda.
Quickly, both I and the angel were having trouble breathing as well. "Solace! Get a door open! You others, try not to breathe! Cover your faces!"
The vampire slammed into the next door, opening it with a crash and rolling through. Rythelda followed, tears streaming from her face at the gas. Both Melissa and I were in the same state, so I needed to get her away from the gas as well. Rythelda's thralls were next through the door, even though they were not affected by the gas. Supporting Melissa, I made for the door...
And there was an explosion, sending us back up the stairs. They began to crumple from the damage. I hastily ran my finger against the wall, sketching out a door. I opened it, and forced the unresisting Melissa into the extradimensional oubliette I had created. There was only room for one, so I slammed the door, hoping that none of the gas had made it in and Melissa would recover. Then the stairs collapsed. As the metal began to close around me, I pulled myself along my thread to Rythelda.
She was on fire, and so was the room. I attempted to quell the fire by magic, but Rythelda fell in a charred heap before I could. The pain was too intense to try casting more magic, so I picked a direction and ran. I came out near a soldier handling a flamethrower. He tried to train it on me, but in my rage, I overbore him. There were others around, so I grabbed the flamethrower and burned them. When none were left standing, I dropped the weapon and loped off away from the fire to nurse my wounds.
I found that my only remaining servant was Solace, who was unconscious. Hoping that I was unobserved, I pulled mana from my lands and summoned an Alabaster Potion. I drank it greedily, and felt my burns heal. I tossed away the empty bottle and considered my options. I could appear next to the vampire, but I did not know anything of his condition, or who was around him. And he was not awake to answer my call. And I did not have the right spell ready to bring back any other of my fallen minions so soon. I would need to find another one.
"Necromancer!" came a voice. I looked around, there was no one in the room.
"Who might you be?"
"That is no matter. Leave now, and I will spare your life. All of your... creatures are dead or captured. You are helpless. Begone. I have already defeated one of your kind this night."
"Not until I get what I came for."
"And that is?"
"A... prisoner here."
There was a pause. "There are none here. You have chosen the wrong place."
"Your ally, Tandalus Zivo, has kidnapped an innocent. I intend to free her."
"Oh, he has, has he? If he has, you still have no right being here. Begone,and take your parlor tricks elsewhere. It may be Halloween, but you and your costumed soldiers are not welcome."
"How little you know." I did not believe him, as I had been warned about the deviousness of this one, whom I presumed to be the one called Wilcox. "I will not leave without the prisoner."
"Too bad." There was a hissing sound, and I could smell the poisonous gas again. But I was already back out through the door. I tugged on some lines, and a cold woman with snakes as hair appeared in front of me, leading my flight though the corridors. This one has no name, she is just just one of the countless demons from the Pit. Her gaze petrified soldiers that we encountered, as I homed in on the necklace. Finally, we were directly above it. There was no way quickly down to the next lower floor, and I could hear more soldiers were coming. More, perhaps than my Infernal Medusa could handle. And the gas was beginning to hiss into this room...
So I reached through the planes and found one of the first stelae I had planted, under the tutelage of the planewalker Ahrmin ip Wandrun. The red mana felt good, overeager to do my will. I looked out the window and reached high into the sky above the city, and summoned rocks there. These meteors streaked downwards. building up momentum as they fell. Finally, the soldiers managed to kill my medusa, though the passage was choked with statues of their fellows. Then the meteors struck.
The first one plowed through the window to the room I occupied, crashing through it and bowling over the soldiers trying to come through the door. The second crashed into the room below, and the final one opened the gap wider. The spell done, I rushed to the edge and dropped down to the next room.
Through the dust, I saw a coughing man behind a desk. He saw me drop in, and he pulled out a small slug-thrower to defend himself. A touch of red mana, and it blew up in his hand. He backed against the wall, as I moved menacingly forward. I looked very much the horror by that time, even though the potion had healed much of my wounds.
"Who... what are you?"
"I am an avenging angel. You are Wilcox?"
He nodded almost frantically, nursing his hurt hand.
"Where is the prisoner?"
"What prisoner? I told you!"
He looked almost as he believed it, so I tuned in on the necklace's trail. It was behind the desk, and Wilcox moved away nervously as I went there. There was a box, which I shattered with a touch of red mana. The necklace, the one I had wrought for Ariel with five gems representing the five schools of magic, lay there. There was also a note written in the language of Scintilla. It read: "Good luck finding her. I will be waiting. Tandalus Zivo." Its held an aura undeniably that of my opponent.
I was shaken. It seemed that my treacherous opponent had taken her off- plane before he had come to vanquish me, though I could not fathom why. If he had won, there would be no need, and it would only make his defeat a pyrrhic victory for me. Unless he expected to lose...
I turned and found that Wilcox had fled. This was also my sign to leave. I would need to follow the planewalker's steps, but first, there were things to accomplish here.
I suspected that the dead bodies of my servants would give Wilcox's sages too much information about the true nature of the universe, so I reluctantly burned the avatar body of the unconscious Joshua Solace, as it would not be worth the risk to try and save him. I used the resulting mana to summon an Eater of the Dead. I cloaked it from vision, and gave it a gaseous form. I sent it to filter through the building and consume the others that it could find. Then I stepped along my thread to the oubliette's door, and clung to the wall while I used the power of the plains to open the door. Melissa blinked and reached to let me help her out.
"Melissa, Ariel has been kidnapped off-plane. I am leaving now to find her. I will take you back to Sablemorn first."
"I... want to come along and help."
"It will be dangerous. We will visit places you were never meant to be."
"She's my cousin. Do you think that I can let her die somewhere else?"
"Who said anything about dying? I will find her, safe."
"You're not the only one who cares. I won't let you leave without me."
I studied her face carefully, so much like Ariel's in her stubbornness. "Fine, we will return to Sablemorn first to prepare for a short time, then we will be off." I gathered Melissa in my arms, then stepped along my thread to Sablemorn. I single tear came to my eye. I would find Ariel, and no one, living or dead, would stop me.
To be continued....
And, as promised, here is your free card...
Target creature with flying loses flying until end of turn, and a different
creature of target creature's controller's choice gains flying until end of
"It's your turn. Go get 'em, Grak."
|Copyright © 1997 Tim Bailey|
The terms "Alabaster Potion", "Infernal Medusa" and "Eater of the Dead" are property of Wizards of the Coast. The rest of "Points of Brilliance Part 7: House of Cards" 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.