Quicksilver Part 1
Originally posted Jan 22, 1997
Modified version posted Jul 20, 1997
Stay tuned after the story for a Magic card based on it!
The region known for generations as the Kingdom of Noloder; the second day of the month of Neevalan of the four hundred seventy-ninth year, as the free city of Rhodessa reckons time In that place and time, a visitor appeared, like none that the plane of Tolagrand had known.
The normal low buzz of activity in the forest was silent, as it watched a hunt laden with much more desperation than usual. For the hunt that day had both a hunter and hunted who were alien to the natural order of the forest. The hunted fled heedlessly from his pursuer, mindlessly crashing into trees, uprooting some of the smaller ones. For though he was no bear, he more than matched one in size and strength and ferocity. He had been hounded many times, but no one had ever captured him. Now, a new threat had arrived, with new magic different than the others. As he topped a rise, a tree branch by his head exploded, and without a second glance at his hunter, he began to roll down the opposite side of the hill. Finding a place of safety was the only thing on his mind.
"Blast, missed! Thistlewaite, make sure the skirmishers keep it contained. I want it. And I want to bring it down."
"Yes, lord." Thistlewaite spoke to the falcon perched on his shoulder, and the bird took off on its mission.
The first man paused to reload his rifle. "That creature's like nothing I've ever seen in Dominia. It'll be a fine prize for this trip."
The hunted paused a moment, trying to regain his composure. Fear paralyzed his mind, letting his bestial side take over. He knew these woods better than the mysterious hunter, he was sure of it. Even with the men beating the woods to either side, forcing him down a pathway to... where? Conscious thought was so hard just now... Think! he commanded himself. An idea auspiciously floated into the conscious part of his mind.
The falcon returned to Thistlewaite's arm, and after a consultation, the man reported, "The beast is being limited to a corridor one hundred feet on a side by the skirmishers. They understand their orders, Lord Kensington."
"Good. Now, keep following me." He boldly, yet warily, stalked forward along his quarry's tracks, rifle at the ready. Thistlewaite followed behind, with a trifle less alacrity and wariness.
With a single slight snap, an object sprung out of the bushes to the left, narrowly missing Kensington as he dodged forward with almost supernatural agility. The object instead plunged into Thistlewaite's arm. He sighed in pain and surprise, and dropped to the ground.
After pausing a moment to see if there were any more attacks forthcoming, Kensington dropped the rifle to the ground and went to Thistlewaite's side. The object was gone, but it left a small hole in his subordinate's sleeve, which Kensington saw corresponded to a great red welt underneath. Kensington looked to the left, and saw that the object was a barb attached to a sapling that had been secured as a trap. This beast was more intelligent that he had thought at first. Now this was something a bit more interesting than his normal prizes. But first, Thistlewaite needed attention.
His assistant's breathing began to get more shallow, and his eyes began to glaze over. A swift neurotoxin, Kensington thought, that paralyzes its victim. Quick action was required. He sent the falcon for assistance, and began to try to suck the venom from the wound. It did not work, Thistlewaite's breathing became more shallow. Finally, he despaired of curing his beleaguered assistant without medical equipment and drew forth a slender stick of wood from his pack.
"I, Maximilian Q. Lucas, Lord Kensington, do call upon the animus of Threshold to bind this man, Lieutenant Thomas Thistlewaite, in time to preserve his life." He continued to chant in a mystical tongue as he inscribed a circle around Thistlewaite with the tip of the wand, then began to draw a rune on the fallen man's forehead. But Thistlewaite's face took on the rigor of death a moment before the rune was completed, and the circle and rune faded with a crackle of power.
"Damn the beast! It has deprived me of a good man! It shall endure great suffering before its head adorns my wall!" Kensington replaced his wand, snatched up his rifle again, and began to track his quarry's spoor with a greater urgency.
The forest rumbled slightly to those sensitive enough to hear. A spirit had passed the veil. The magic of the Kingdom of Noloder had not been completely snuffed out with its fall, and remained sensitive to matters of life and death. The hunted, passingly familiar with the ways of magic himself, smiled slightly as he heard the spirit disturb the forest with its passage into Gordestin's domain. The hunted made a short prayer to Gordestin that he would not be visiting Him anytime soon.
But his attention was caught by the rustling of his pursuer coming closer, and his bestial side began to take over again. To the right, to the right, he directed himself. Break out of whatever cage the hunters were trying to put him in.
A scream came from Kensington's right. A human scream. One of his men, no doubt. The beast was not quite as frightened of the skirmishers as he had thought. Another life for it to pay for, in agony.
He abandoned the tracks, now having a better idea of the beast's location. He ran towards the sound, with less sound than a lesser man due to his long experience of hunting in forests and jungles. Within a few moments, he found one of his skirmishers thrashing violently face down in the brush. Kensington, first glanced around for the beast, then turned the soldier over. Only his long experience kept him from gasping. The soldier's right eye was gone, and a red welt was forming around the socket. More venom. He marveled at the manner of creature this quarry was.
"I will convey condolences to your family, but there is no chance to save you now. I can only make your death less painful." Kensington drew his saber, and plunged it into the soldier's heart. He made a slight strangling sound, and fell back, still.
"May the Lord have mercy on your soul." Kensington paused to wipe the blood off his saber with a bit of cloth he carried for the purpose before resheathing it, and took off along the fresh spoor of the beast. It was outside the skirmish lines now, but he had no way to notify the men to reform it quickly enough to enclose the beast. The falcons would have trouble finding him. No matter, he thought. He would bring this one down personally. The lion and griffon and dragon heads on his walls proved that he had the will and the means.
The forest rumbled again to mark the passage of another spirit into the afterlife. The hunted had quickly and easily taken care of the only pursuer he had seen. If they were all like that, small and soft and weak, he had nothing to fear.
With that thought, the hunted's bestial nature began to subside. A trap, he thought. Another trap would be needed to take care of their leader, then the rest would be broken. Up ahead, there was another rise, then a stream on the other side. A good place to hide one's tracks.
Kensington, heart beating fast, found the beast's tracks crest another rise, then head down the other side towards a stream. He stopped a moment, getting some feeling of impending danger. Certainly, it had the wit enough to fashion a crude trap, but he had defeated enough traps in his life to avoid any one now. Still...
Keeping the rifle ready with his left hand, he gestured with his right. A payment of a few moments now would likely reap a reward soon. There was a surge of magic, and a small floating sphere appeared in front of Kensington. It had translucent arms across its surface, flailing around as the orb rotated. A Shield Sphere, a useful and quick protection from attack, Kensington thought.
With the Shield Sphere tumbling through the air in front of him, he advanced. The tracks, predictably he thought, entered the stream and did not come out the other side. So, which way did the beast go? Some dim thought had crossed its mind, to try to evade its pursuer. Kensington grinned. A worthy quarry.
Without entering the stream, he followed it towards its source. The sphere tumbled about in front of him, where it would hopefully flush out the beast.
Obviously, the beast had a trifle more intelligence than Kensington had thought, as it came at him from behind. Still not all that much, Kensington thought, otherwise it would have used its advantage to lose the hunter entirely. But it leapt down from a tree, landing just behind the hunter. Kensington froze in shock just long enough for the beast to knock him aside. How could something of the beast's bulk have climbed a tree, or something of the beast's wits wait for such an opportune moment to attack, Kensington thought as he tumbled. The rifle went flying as the hunter struck a tree and felt the wind knocked out of him.
The beast leapt again at Kensington, its form looking to the blurred vision of the hunter very much like a giant man. But before it could strike, the Shield Sphere interposed itself. After a short battle, the beast had broken off several of the Sphere's arms, and flung its remains against a tree.
The beast's attention turned back to Kensington, but he had used the distraction to regain his rifle and now shot the beast directly in the chest. The bullet ricocheted off, but its dweomer took effect. The beast became rigid and fell face-first on the ground. Not wishing to take any chances, Kensington pumped another round into it, and then pulled out his wand.
"I, Maximilian Q Lucas, Lord Kensington, do call upon the animus of Threshold to bind this creature in space." As he spoke further syllables, he inscribed a circle in the forest floor around the beast. A very large circle, he thought. My Lord, it must be eight feet tall, even without the tail. He completed the ritual with a rune upon the beast's forehead.
The circle done, he leaned up against a tree a couple yards from the circle and with slightly trembling hands, reloaded the rifle. Within moments, the effects of the rifle had worn off and the beast slowly stood up. It tested the unseen walls of the circle, and found that bright flashes of light and energy flung it back whenever it tried to break through.
Unsettled, Kensington took a good look at the unnatural beast pacing with badly damped fury in the cage. True, it was a freak, he thought. He could not fathom where something like it could have originated, nor what taxonomic classification would describe it. Its head, eight feet above the forest floor, was that of a very handsome lion, complete with flowing mane. This was much like any number of beasts from Kensington's wall. But that was the most attractive portion of the beast. Its chest was covered with some sort of chitinous armor, as if from a lobster or crab. Extending from either side of the beast's chest were two tentacles, not unlike those of a squid or octopus. The armor continued sparsely along its arms and legs, which could only be called such because it stood erect. The parts of the legs that did not have the armor were furred like a lion, and in fact gave the impression of a lion's hind legs, except that they were a lot more solid to bear the weight of the beast. In fact... They seemed as if a human's and lion's legs had been melded together. This sudden hypothesis seemed to gain more credibility when he realized that the beast's arms were very similar to a human's as well. That is, except for the crustacean armor and lion's fur, and the retractable claws that flicked in and out of the beast's hands. The last major attribute was the source of the venom that felled two of his men: a large scorpion's tail. True, it did not rise high enough to attack over the head like a true scorpion, but it looked flexible enough to reach around the beast's side to plunge into its victims.
"I do not know what it is that the denizens of this plane call you, but I shall name thee Goliath, from your size and the fact that a man of lesser stature and greater destiny has felled you. Trust me, though you cannot understand my words, that your death shall be excruciating." The beast seemed to glean some meaning from his words and beat at the circle's walls in a fury.
Satisfied that the beast was contained, Kensington made some gestures and a small contraption of wood and fabric appeared in his hand. "Go, little ornithopter. Bring transportation for this beast. Tell the men to gather." With a flicker of wings, the ornithopter flapped off.
The creature paced his prison impatiently, trying to keep the bestial portion of himself in control. Raw fury would not save him now, he needed his wits and intelligence. His captor, who was dressed in unusual tan clothing, did not seem to want to harm him immediately. His intentions for later were clear, though. The imprisoning circle was impervious to his strength, and it looked like the top of the walls were out of reach, if they even had a top.
The forest rumbled with a new presence. It almost quaked in fear. Those that broke old Noloder were back, to survey their conquest again. Under other circumstances, he would have reacted with fear, but now it offered a chance to escape.
"Captain, there is a giant bird over the forest ahead. It's... not alive."
"Undead?" the captain asked incredulously.
"No, it's metal."
"Another Noloderite mage testing a creation to try and throw off Aquilarian rule, no doubt. Fire when we're in range. And call up the Caelix."
Kensington's Clockwork Avian had almost reached its master when the first shot landed. It shrieked loudly and turned toward its attacker. Kensington heard the scream and opened up a link with the metal bird. Through its crystal eyes, he saw a strange ship flying in the air, bearing down upon his creature. It looked much like the sailing ships that he was familiar with, but its masts only were tall enough to carry one sail each. There were also masts sticking up at an angle from the sides, the purpose of which Kensington could not discern. As he watched, another ballista bolt flew towards the bird, but missed. Kensington ordered the avian higher, to gain the altitude advantage and evade the attackers.
As soon as he had done so, the first of his skirmishers arrived. "Sergeant Blackstone, keep watch on the creature," he commanded. "Do not let it escape. We are under attack, and I shall coordinate our defense from the ship. Keep quiet, and they should not even notice you."
The sergeant saluted, and eyed the creature warily. Kensington pushed him and the other arriving soldiers from his mind. He began to draw in energy through his wand. "By the animus of Threshold, I call thee to my side, Strider." The form of a mechanical horse coalesced. The Clockwork Steed allowed its master to mount it, and then began its gallop at supernatural speed.
Letting Strider take care of the navigation, Kensington reformed the link to the avian and found its greater agility made it able to evade the skyship's ballistae easily. But then the skyship started using magic. A lightning bolt seared one of the avian's wings, restricting its mobility. The next ballista bolt penetrated the avian's side, misaligning the power source. The avian began to flail uncontrollably as it shook itself apart, and plummeted into the forest below. Kensington withdrew his presence before the final crash. It was only a matter of time before the natives noticed and attacked the ship.
Strider arrived at the shore, and stopped just short of the launch there. Kensington wasted no time in leaping from the horse's back and boarding the landing boat. He directed the soldier manning it to make all speed for the ship, as he began signalling it to ready for battle. They were already aware of the demise of the avian and were in the midst of preparations. Kensington hoped he would make it there before the natives did.
"Bird destroyed, sir," reported the first mate.
"Good. The Caelix seemed to make himself useful this time. Have him try to divine the location of that bird's owner. We must set an example."
"As good as done, sir."
The HMS Quicksilver! It was Lord Kensington's flagship, normally powered by steam and armed with cannon, ballistae and a variety of other weapons, so it could operate on many planes. Built in the shipyards of Threshold by shipwrights from a dozen planes, it had carried the lord of Threshold to many regions of Dominia for items to add to his collection. It had defeated many, many opponents that came between the lord and his prize. It was crewed by the best men and women that had found their way to Threshold.
Kensington saw the skyship come out over the water before he got to the Quicksilver. A ballista bolt splashed into the water to his left, as the Quicksilver aimed its cannons to return fire. The cannons remained silent.
"Imbeciles!" Kensington raged. "Gunpowder does not work in this plane! Our small arms only work because I chose ones that don't use gunpowder."
A gasp from the soldier was the only warning Kensington got that the second ballista bolt would find its target. He flung himself from the launch as it exploded in a shower of wood splinters. The shock of the cold water stole his breath, and he fervently hoped that the natives' ship wouldn't be shooting at the wreckage of the launch again. He could do nothing to defend himself.
To be continued...
And, as promised, here is your free card...
When Rifle comes into play, place two Ammunition counters on it.
Tap, Remove an Ammunition counter: Tap target creature. Target creature does not untap as normal during its controller's next untap phase. Target creature's controller may pay an additional 4 to untap it during his next upkeep phase.
3, Tap: Place an Ammunition counter on Rifle. Use this ability only during your Upkeep and only once a turn.
|Copyright © 1997 Tim Bailey|
- Noloder = NO-lo-der
- Neevalan = NEE-va-lan
- Rhodessa = ROW-dess-ah
- Tolagrand = toll-AH-grand
- Gordestin = gore-DESS-tin
- Aquilaria = ah-kwih-LAIR-ee-ah
- Caelix = KIE-licks
"Dominia", "Shield Sphere", "Ornithopter", "Clockwork Avian" and "Clockwork Steed" are property of Wizards of the Coast. This story should not be considered as a challenge to any trademark or copyright of WOTC. The rest of "Quicksilver Part 1" is Copyright 1997 by Timothy Bailey. All rights reserved. This story may not be distributed for profit, with the exception of the normal charges for online time.