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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:58 pm 
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Blood Price
by RavenoftheBlack and RuwinReborn
Status: Public :diamond:



Desperation


It was just too much. All of it, just too much. The unspeakable pain, the unending agony, the knowledge that every day that passed was a day closer to his death. How many months had it been? He wished he could ask that question and actually ponder at the answer, but he knew perfectly well. Every hour of every day was etched into his memory as though carved there with a chisel. Another indescribable surge of pain tore through his body, every inch of his veins aflame in his torment. Alone and frightened, Denner Fabellian screamed.


He just wanted it to end.


Eventually, the pain subsided, but it did not vanish. It never vanished. But it lessened enough to allow Denner to hear his own thoughts once again. And the thoughts Denner heard were dark. The Delver shook his head and tried to force them away by looking around the library. His library. Denner Fabellian was not a wealthy man, but he had been able to put enough money together from his jobs of treasure hunting and people finding to maintain a small, peaceful cottage on Wreth, too far upriver for the ships to come bothering him. In fact, nobody ever came this far north. There was never anyone.


Denner was, as always, thoroughly alone.


He was sitting at his small, circular reading table, but no books were laid before him. The only things on the table were a tiny wooden chest and a single candle, the flame flickering as it tried, and failed, to illuminate the shelves of books surrounding the Delver. He had read them all, of course, and knew them cover to cover, every page, every word, every letter. In truth, he didn’t need the books themselves. They were stored in his endless, flawless memory. But somehow, having them brought Denner some small comfort, and he needed any comfort he could find.


Denner glanced out the one window in his library into the night beyond and saw that it was raining again. It was a typical Wreth storm, with rain falling straight down and the occasional lightning strike to light the darkness, but little zeal. The rain was just enough to break up the silence, but not enough to fill it, leaving Denner, as he usually was, alone with his thoughts.


Alone with his pain.


It had been going on too long, this pain Denner carried. Syl’s poison coursed through his veins, killing him slowly moment by moment, and it was getting worse. The momentary hope he had found on Dammerdall had proven false, the aid promised by Lady Nasina on Oorkonde had been too little, and Denner had no more leads. Each day, it was becoming more and more difficult to concentrate, and his targetless delving for some unknown answer was increasingly painful. Denner Fabellian was running out of time, and he had run out of options.


Except for one.


Denner grimaced, and only partially in pain. There was only one person he could think of who could even potentially help him, but it was not a pleasant thought. Denner considered himself a learner, and he had learned much from the business with the Dual-Walkers. But perhaps the biggest lesson he had learned was that one does not enter lightly into a deal with Fisco Vane. The man disliked Denner immensely, and had been close to killing him in the Amphiseum, and yet still he had given Denner one of his coins. If the Delver couldn’t find a cure, maybe the Shark could. But what would that cure cost him?


What was his life worth?


Suddenly, another burst of pain erupted throughout Denner’s steadily weakening frame. His eyes slammed shut, wrapping him in familiar darkness. His body convulsed, and he lurched forward, pinning his right wrist between his body and the table. He registered the pain in his wrist even over the agony of the poison, but it was the only thing that stopped his head from slamming into the table’s surface. Denner’s lungs struggled to draw in breath, and his muscles locked while his mind struggled to remain conscious. Finally, after far too long, the pain relaxed again, and Denner’s vision slowly returned. As it did, his eyes fell on the tiny chest, dully lit by the candle next to it.


Denner reached for the box with trembling fingers. He knew what it would mean to open that box, to withdraw Fisco’s coin, and to light it with the flame of the candle. He knew the path it would set him on, and he knew there was no guarantee Fisco could help him, or would. And even if he didn’t, or couldn’t, or wouldn’t, Denner somehow suspected there would still be a price to pay. But Denner was desperate now. He had nothing else. He had no one else. He had a single choice to make, and it was between desperation and hopelessness. Of the two, desperation was the brighter option.


Slowly, Denner opened the chest, and looked inside, staring down in disbelief. The coin was broken.


As tears started rolling down his cheek, Denner Febellian lowered his head, covering them with his arms. In the darkness, in his desperation, Denner surrendered to despair, and waited for the pain to claim him.



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:58 pm 
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Inspiration


Denner was awakened hours later by a painful convulsion that knocked him off of his chair. He was still shaking long after he recovered, and forced himself to look around the library. The candle had burned itself out, but the room was light now. The storm had passed by, and morning had come. But the Delver’s thoughts were no less dark. He had had one single hope left, and that was the dangerous help of Fisco Vane. Now, even that had been taken from him, and he was hopeless. There was no further chance.


Suddenly, an image appeared in Denner Fabellian’s mind. A beautiful image. It was the form of the lovely Siren Penelophine. Denner thought of her often. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever known, and he usually found thoughts of her comforting. This time, however, there was something different. He still found himself pleased by his flawless memory of her, but there was something deeper, something his mind seemed to be grasping for. Denner spent long minutes trying to figure out what it was before his mind settled on another memory.


The battle for Kokkinos.


Sadly, the war for the Wheel was something else the Delver often thought of, with far less pleasing feelings to accompany the memories. But when he and the other planeswalkers had joined the revolt of the Igknighted and battled Syl and Chardis’s forces in Axe Blade Ridge, Denner had done his part by creating an illusionary army. Usually, he could never have created such a large and powerful illusion, but Penelophine had helped, singing him songs of magic and power to increase his own ability ten-fold.


Denner’s head snapped up, and this time not from a poison-induced convulsion.


“Penelophine!” he said aloud, the realization hitting him like an epiphany. Denner did not waste time. He immediately closed his eyes and concentrated on the Siren, allowing his abilities as a Delver to find her, even across the Blind Eternities. His mind latched on to her immediately. She was the answer. She had to be. If Denner’s abilities were insufficient to find Fisco Vane alone, then maybe Penelophine could amplify them, as she had his illusions in Axe Blade Ridge. It was a desperate hope, but any hope was better than none.


The moment Denner felt he had a solid lock on the Siren, he planeswalked off of Wreth. The reality of the landlocked plane seemed to peel away like the page of a tome, and Denner seemed to stay behind as his senses vanished. He moved through the aether, the only sensation he felt was the flipping of the cosmic pages, and the constant pull of his Delver sense. Finally, the last page seemed to turn, and Denner felt himself dropping into place like the words of a book.


Denner had no idea where he was. He had never been to this plane before. The sky was a vibrant blue, and he seemed to be standing atop a large, bowl-shaped plateau that eased downward toward a small lake in its center. Denner tried to take one step, but the moment he did, he collapsed. He had been so focused on finding Penelophine that he had momentarily failed to notice the pain, but it grew so suddenly and so violently that he could not ignore it any longer. The convulsion seemed to last longer than usual, but although Denner’s vision blurred, he managed to stay conscious. This time.


Eventually, he regained himself enough to climb to his feet. He could feel the Siren’s presence nearby, in the direction of the lake, and he knew he had little time remaining. His left arm was still convulsing, although the pain was not intense, so as he walked forward, he clutched his left arm at the elbow, pulling it against his body in an attempt to steady it. The plateau was rocky and the path uneven, but there were a few trees along the way to offer shade from the bright sun above. Still, by the time he reached the water’s edge, he was sweating and exhausted. He doubted either one was from the walk.


Denner stared out over the water of the lake and found himself smiling. The surface was amazingly calm. The water was unlike anything else the Delver had ever seen, reflecting with the clarity of a mirror everything that was above it. Intrigued, Denner took two steps in and looked down at his own reflection. His breath caught in his throat at what he saw. Denner’s crystalline memory knew precisely what he looked like, but the man he saw staring back at him in that water could not have been him. The reflection’s face was gaunt and pale, the hair wild and unkempt, the eyes dark and sunken. He looked much older than he remembered himself being.


Much closer to death.


As Denner continued to stare at his reflection, he heard the surface of the water break a short distance from where he stood. He looked up to see the sensuous form of Penelophine the Siren emerge. She was just as beautiful as Denner remembered her, naturally, although the droplets of mirrored water cascading down her hair and her body heightened the effect all the more. Denner wanted to stare, but he found himself drawn even more back to his own reflection, the ultimate testament to his decline.


“Denner Fabellian.” Penelophine spoke his name simply as she approached him. She stopped short when she clearly saw his face. “You look terrible.”


Denner looked up at her again, allowing his eyes to drift across her form before settling on her eyes. He debated commenting on her appearance as she had commented on his, but decided against it. “Penelophine, I need your help.”


The Siren frowned. “Denner, I… I do not know how I can help you. Your illness is…”


“I think I’ve found someone who can help with that,” Denner hastened to say. “But I need to find something first.”


“I thought you were the one who could find things,” the Siren said. “You were able to find me easily enough, were you not?”


Denner nodded. “You glow brightly in the darkness of the Eternities.”


Penelophine looked away and said nothing. Denner frowned.


“Anyway, it’s not a matter of finding it, it’s a matter of acquiring it, and I’m in no condition to do that alone.”


The Siren looked back at the poisoned Delver, her eyes quivering a bit. “Does it hurt you much, Denner?”


The Delver bit his bottom lip and nodded. “Constantly. The convulsions are coming every day now. I don’t think I have long left. Every time my heart beats, I come closer to death.”


“So it is for all things.”


Denner closed his eyes. “I know. But I’m…I’m not…” He stopped, a tear escaping from his eyes. He sniffled once, and forced himself to stand straighter. “There is a chance for a cure, but I need help. I need…” he paused again, scarcely believing he was even going to say it. “I need Fisco Vane.”


Penelophine looked him deeply in the eyes. “Denner, I have been alive for a very long time by your standards. I have known many dangerous planeswalkers in that time, and few are as dangerous as he. I wish we had not had to treat with him to defeat Syl and Chardis, and I advise you do not do so any further.”


“He’s my last chance, Penelophine.”


“Perhaps it would be better…” the Siren began, then stopped. The silence hung over the plateau lake for a long moment before Denner spoke.


“You think it would be better that I die?”


Penelophine hung her head. “I…” She stopped, and turned away. “I do not wish you to die, Denner Fabellian. But perhaps the peace of the grave would be better than an indentured servitude to Fisco Vane.”


Denner turned away, as well. When he spoke, his voice was cracked, broken, and soft. “I don’t want to die, Penelophine. Someday, I’m going to have to. I know that. But I’ve barely lived! You’ve been alive for centuries. Maybe you prefer death. I don’t.”


The Delver was weeping now, and could not bring himself to go on. He stood there for several long moments before he felt Penelophine’s hand come to rest on his shoulder. He did not look over.


“I understand, Denner,” Penelophine said. “And I do not prefer death. I never would.” She paused for a long time while Denner composed himself. “How can I help?”


Finally Denner looked over and into her eyes. “Sing to me. Like you did on Kokkinos. Only this time, I’ll be delving for the Shark.”


She lowered her eyes. “I do not know what this will do. It may not work.”


“At least we’ll try.”


“It may prove painful.”


“So will doing nothing.”


Finally, Penelophine nodded. “Very well, Denner. I will do what I can.”


Denner’s eyes began to tear up once again, this time out of gratitude. “Thank you. I won’t forget this.”


Penelophine smiled a sad, downcast smile. “I know.”



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:58 pm 
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Preservation


Denner fell out of the eternities and onto his knees. After the chaos of planeswalking, he was frantic to find something - anything - to focus on instead of the pain. There was... now. His pants were soaking through the knees, fingers clawing into the sleet. He could feel Fisco Vane's location throbbing in the back of his skull. Even with Penelophine's help...


But they had found him, and Denner was running out of time.


As the wave of nausea passed, Denner stood shakily and breathed in as deep as he dared. The cold bite in the air was almost refreshing against his fevered flesh, and he wondered, briefly, what Fisco Vane would be doing in such a frigid landscape. Glancing around revealed only a muddied and frosted road, with a sparse scattering of thin trees on either side.


Denner could feel him down the road, however. He wondered if Fisco Vane knew he was coming. Wondering, however, was not going to save his life. Denner clenched his teeth and walked down the road.


Thankfully, the road was straight for the most part, and without many potholes. Surprisingly tidy for roads in an unkept, backwater place like this. Denner had assumed that Fisco Vane would have had... more expensive tastes. But then, he had not said much in their time together, and they had certainly not chatted about their preferences in abode. Denner winced thinking about the irritation he had often heard in Fisco's voice. In this pitiful state, Denner was uncertain whether or not he would be able to assuage Fisco's temper. Hopefully the promise of a favor - any favor - would pique the Shark's interest, but...


Denner would hesitate to describe Fisco Vane as capricious, but he would certainly not say he was magnanimous.


Eventually, the road ended in front of a modest cottage. A thin trail of white smoke rose out of the chimney. Denner caught a small movement in the only second story window, but when his eyes snapped up, there was only a curtain hanging against the glass. Fisco Vane, Denner could feel, was inside. For half a second, his mind raced with concerns, misgivings, and worst-case scenarios. Then a spike of pain lanced through his gut, and he threw all that aside. If Fisco Vane killed him, so be it - he was dying anyway. He didn’t want to die, but if he had to, quicker was preferable.


He marched up to the cottage door and rapped upon it smartly, before attempting to draw himself up to his full height.


There was a brief pause before Denner heard... footsteps? They shuffled towards the door, but there was a distinct sound of wood against wood that threw off the rhythm. Before Denner could think more about it, the door swung open.


Denner never forgot a face, and he remembered Fisco Vane's well. It was stuck in a permanent scowl, with heavy bags underneath his eyes. The eyes themselves - dark and unforgiving - had moved around shrewdly. Denner had come to understand that this was Fisco looking for weaknesses to exploit - whether it be in his enemies or his allies. Denner had rarely seen him without a cigar.


The person standing in front of him was Fisco Vane, of course. Denner could see it in the nose, the eyes, the ears. But everything else about him was different. He looked older, and yet, the bags under his eyes looked less like bruises and more like wrinkles. His hair had lost its luster, and one half of his face appeared to be stuck in a permanent, slack frown. What was more, he was leaning heavily against a polished wooden cane. It reminded Denner of his own deteriorated reflection.


But as he stared at Denner, face unreadable, Denner could not help but notice that his eyes seemed... brighter.


"Fabellian." Fisco greeted, voice slow and purposeful. "You look like hell."


"I've been through it." Denner replied immediately. "And I need your help."


"Right." Fisco drawled, and then turned slightly. "Diana! Bring my coat and... that..." He clenched his teeth for a moment, before sighing. "Oh, she knows what I mean. Here, move aside..." Fisco shuffled past Denner, closing the door behind him. Denner blinked as Fisco stuck his cane into a snowbank next to the door and turned to face Denner with his hand out. Denner grimaced, and reached into his pocket-


"None of that." Fisco groused immediately. "Just give me your hand." Denner did what he was told, albeit slowly, and Fisco placed both his thumbs against the underside of Denner's wrist, humming to himself. "Not much time left." He muttered. "Tell me what you need."


Denner considered asking Fisco Vane what had happened to him. He considered asking him why he was not surprised to find Denner outside his door. He considered asking Fisco Vane many things - but none of them would answer the question that had been asked. So, instead, he just answered.


"A planeswalker named Cyrric Adda has a vial of my blood." Denner informed Fisco tersely. "I need it back."


"Right." Fisco murmured, dropping Denner's hand and picking up his cane. He leaned onto it, frowning. "Cyrric Adda... sounds familiar. You need him dead or do you just need the vial back?"


Denner pursed his lips.


"I can't imagine he'd be happy to part with it. He was very interested in studying the poison in my veins."


"And I'm guessing you know where he is?"


Images of Cyrric flashed across Denner's mind, followed by a wave of nauseous pain.


"Of course." He choked out.


"...Right." Fisco turned around as an angel alighted behind him. Denner recognized her as the one he had summoned on the Wheel. Diana. The only difference was that she was wearing white robes instead of black armor. She spared him a nod before helping Fisco into his coat, and handing him a small, black book. Fisco flipped through it for a moment, before pocketing it and turning back to Denner. He looked a little more like the Fisco Vane that Denner remembered, even if the coat was a little threadbare. "You in a lot of pain, Fabellian?" Fisco asked, turning to regard him once more.


Denner bit back a hasty reply, and just answered in the affirmative instead. Fisco nodded.


"Diana, see if you can do something about that." He told the angel, and she nodded once before approaching him.


"Hold still." She ordered shortly, and then laid her hands on either side of his head. He saw a soft flash of light from the corner of his eyes, and then... Well, he was still in pain, but he felt... Warm, like the pain was behind a wall. He could hear it beating upon his senses, but it was muffled.


It was the best he had felt in months, and he nearly fell to his knees and sobbed in relief.


"It's not permanent." Diana told him stoically. "The poison will still kill you..." She glanced at Fisco, who nodded. "Should whatever cure you have in mind fail, you are welcome to return here. It will be made certain that your final days are painless."


"I... hope that won't be necessary." Denner replied, and he felt like he was speaking through cotton. He shook his head, frowned, and shook his head again.


"It will be difficult to concentrate." Diana informed him. "I will remove the spell when the time comes."


"...Thank you." Denner told the angel, sincerely. She did not respond in any way that he could see, and instead, simply lifted into the air and flew out of sight. Fisco Vane approached to stand where Diana had been, sighing.


"She's going to grab a few more things so we can be on our way." Fisco told him. Denner hummed in acknowledgement, and then took a deep breath. This... spell was making it difficult to remember his worries.


"We should talk about payment." Denner said confidently. "Since-"


"Look, Fabellian, you get on my nerves." Fisco waved his free hand to silence Denner, and then pointed at him with it. "Or you did, anyway. Now, I can't say I'm bothered but I guess you don't prattle as much." He shrugged. "But last time I saw you, you were dying, and all I did was offer a coin and a pat on the back. That was wrong, and I'm sorry for it."


Denner blinked. "I- What?"


"I said I'm sorry." Fisco said testily. "And I'm going to help you find a cure to make up for it. We'll be heading out as soon as Diana gets back." And... that was that. Denner could not hear any deception in Fisco's voice, nor could he think of any reason for Fisco to deceive him.


"...Why?" Denner asked after several moments of silence.


"...Don't ask stupid questions, Fabellian." Fisco told him. "You'll get on my nerves again."


Denner stared at Fisco Vane, who pulled out the small book from earlier and began flipping through the pages once more. It was unmarked, and Denner could not see what was written in it, but it did not seem like Fisco was up for much more conversation. Denner just took another deep breath of the cold, winter air.


Though his curiosity demanded to know what had happened to Fisco Vane, Denner decided to leave it be. If Fisco wanted to help - and for free- he was not going to turn it down. And if there was a catch later, well, that was something Denner had been anticipating anyway. For now, he was helping - and that would have to be enough.


With nothing else to do, he simply waited for Diana to return.



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:59 pm 
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Reputation


Denner Fabellian and Fisco Vane stepped out of the aether and into the cool morning air of Dammerdall. Denner, for the first time in a long time, did not collapse after planeswalking. Diana’s spell seemed to block the pain even through the exertion of a ‘walk, something the Delver had never dared to hope was possible. After a few moments, the angel herself fluttered into being just off to Fisco’s left. She said nothing to either of them, but merely watched silently. Fisco fidgeted with his coat for a moment before casting his eyes over the towering city walls in front of them.


“Now, let’s see,” Fisco said slowly. “This is, oh, which one is this again? One of the W’s, isn’t it?”


“What’s that?” Denner asked, trying to parse the other planeswalker’s meaning.


“This city. Its name.”


Denner shook his head, trying to clear it. “Uh, Wurzelberg. It’s where I first met Cyrryc Adda.”


“Right.” Fisco paused for a long time, then glanced back at Denner. “He still in there?”


Denner scratched his head. “I…I don’t…I don’t think so?”


“You’re not sure?” Fisco asked, annoyed.


“It’s hard to tell,” Denner said.


Fisco sighed. “Well, I hate to do this to you, kid, but we need to know.” He glanced over to Diana and nodded. Moving too quickly for Denner to react, Diana closed the distance between them and placed her hands on his head. A moment later, the Delver felt his pain creep back into his body, and he nearly doubled over from it. He had no idea if he managed to stay standing on his own, or with the help of the angel.


Wanting the pain to end as quickly as possible, Denner quickly concentrated on his memory of Cyrryc Adda, and his mind clicked immediately. “He’s not in the city,” Denner said, his head still clutched by Diana. “But he’s not far. That way,” Denner pointed east. “It’s hard to tell, but maybe a two hours’ ride? Maybe three.”


“I was afraid of that,” Fisco said. “Well, actually, I expected it to be much worse.” He hesitated, thinking. “What about your blood?”


Denner nodded. “It’s there, too. Same place.”


Fisco just nodded, and Denner again felt the warmth from Diana’s hands push back his pain behind the floodgates of her magic. The Delver exhaled a heartfelt thank you as she pulled her hands back.


“No thanks yet,” Fisco warned. “We’re going to need that Delver’s sense of yours again. There’s going to be a lot more pain before we’re done.”


Denner nodded his understanding. “The blood’s more important than dulling the pain.”


Fisco looked the younger man up and down, then nodded once. “We’ll need supplies.” He looked back toward the city. “Wurzelberg, huh?” Fisco closed his eyes and tilted his head upward. “What was Wurzelberg, again? Twelve right, three left? No, Fifteen right, seven left? No…” He sighed. “Well, anyway.”


Without another word, Fisco started toward the city gates. He walked slowly and unevenly, leaning against his cane with every step. Denner glanced back at Diana, who merely stared, her face completely unreadable. She made no move to follow Fisco as he worked his way toward the gate, but instead stood near a tree by the road and waited. Denner caught up to Fisco quickly.


“Are we just leaving Diana here?”


“Yup.”


“But, don’t you think it would be a good idea to have her along?”


“Nope.”


“Well, I just mean…”


“Look, Fabellian,” Fisco said, still walking forward. “How long were you on Dammerdall?”


“Do you want hours?”


“That short, huh? Well, then keep three things in mind. One, you can’t do anything on this plane without Reputation.”


“I learned that the hard way.”


“From what I remember, you learn everything the hard way.” Fisco looked over at Denner momentarily. “Sorry. Anyway, two, never speak ill of the Church in public. That’s a fine way to throw away whatever Rep you’ve gained. Third, causing a scene can hurt both your Rep and your standing with the Church, and bringing an angel into the middle of a busy city is going to cause a scene.”


“But won’t people notice her just standing by the side of the road like that?”


“Nope.”


Denner considered questioning Fisco further, as he could not imagine anyone failing to notice Diana, but he chose not to press the issue. Many things had obviously changed for Fisco Vane, but Denner doubted that his patience was one of those things. At length, they came to the gates, and while the guards eyed them suspiciously, they made no move to stop them, nor did Fisco show any indication of noticing them.


As they continued through the streets of Wurzelberg, Denner found himself thinking about Selda and the others who had helped him, albeit reluctantly, on his first trip to the plane. They had been hoping to make a name for themselves and build their own Reputations. The Delver smiled as he recalled their faces, particularly the red-haired Selda herself. He could feel their presence somewhere on the plane, but Diana’s spell made it difficult to focus on them. Still, he hoped that wherever they were, they were finding success.


After a very long and slow walk, they came to a large, lavish structure. Fisco called Denner in close and whispered to him before he moved toward the door. “Whatever you do, kid, don’t mention you’re a Nought. Because if you do, I swear I’m just going to let them do whatever they’re going to do to you. Got it?”


Denner simply nodded. After the treatment he had been given last time, he had no intention of even using the word. Once he was satisfied, Fisco nodded and entered the fine structure. He was greeted almost immediately by a young clerk, who smiled at him.


“Hello, sir, and welcome to the First Allein League Reputation Bank of Wurzelberg. If I may just see your Letters, I will be happy to help you.”


Fisco Vane looked the young man up and down slowly. “I would like to speak to whoever has been here the longest.”


The clerk looked confused. “Well, sir, the President has been here several years, but I still need to see…”


Fisco held up a hand to cut him off. “Representative, clerk, messenger boy, I don’t care who it is. Whoever has been here the longest, please.”


The clerk’s confusion only deepened. “Nobody’s been here as long as old Hans, the janitor, but I doubt he would do you any good.”


“Hans…Hans…” Fisco said to himself. After a moment, he nodded. “Yes, that will do nicely, I think. I would like to speak with Hans.”


The clerk did not answer. He merely shrugged and retreated into the back. Fisco glanced at Denner and nodded again. The two waited in silence for a few moments before the clerk returned with an elderly man how moved even slower than Fisco. He wiped his hands off on his shirt as he approached, and his voice seemed strained as he spoke.


“Yes, sir? I’m told you wanted to…” He froze suddenly, his eyes growing wide. “Mr. Flügel? Mr. Flügel, is that you, sir? By Saint Woglinde herself, I would have thought you dead and buried by now!”


“It has been ages, hasn’t it, Hans?” Fisco said. “Tell me, is the old safe still here?”


“Oh, of course, sir! Of course! One moment, please, I’ll get the President.”


Before the young clerk could object, Hans had disappeared into the back. Denner could make out a few harsh words from that direction, then silence, and then footsteps coming closer. A moment later, a man in a fine suit emerged from around the corner and approached Fisco, a stunned smile on his face.


“Mr. Flügel, my name is Ernst Kruger. Hans has told me who you are. Please, please come in! What can we help you with, sir?”


“I need to see the safe,” Fisco said simply.


“The safe?” Ernst asked before recognition flashed across his face. “Oh, of course! The safe! Your safe! Of course, of course, right this way, Mr. Flügel.”


“Pardon me, sir,” the clerk said, “but what is going on? I haven’t even seen his Letters yet. This is very improper!”


“Silence!” Ernst snapped. “Don’t you know who this is? This is Mr. Flügel! The Mr. Flügel! He’s the reason you or I or anyone here has a job. He’s the one who fought tooth and nail to bring the Allein League to Wurzelberg! Those blasted Heilkunde House bankers had us blocked out before that, and Geldlich Flügel got us established.” He turned back to Fisco. “I do apologize, sir, right this way.”


The Reputation Bank president led Fisco and Denner back into an opulent office that must have been his own. He walked immediately to the side wall and pushed against a piece of paneling, which slid away easily, revealing a safe set into the wall at chest level. Ernst stepped aside and indicated toward it. “No one has opened it in at least all my time here, sir. Naturally, nobody knows how!”


“Naturally,” Fisco said, stepping up to it. He ran his fingers along the dial and smiled to himself. Then, quicker than Denner or Ernst could follow, he spun it first right, and then left, and just like that, it opened. Fisco reached inside and pulled out a small bundle of letters and a deep red pouch full of coins. The coins he tossed to Denner. The letters, he handed to Ernst. “Would you be so good as to write me up a fresh letter from these?”


“Of course, sir!” Ernst replied, and immediately set to work as Denner watched in amazement. The Delver glanced over at Fisco, who merely nodded back. The Banker worked quickly, and inside of two hours, Fisco and Denner were riding out of Wurzelberg again, fully supplied and with looks of amazement from everybody they dealt with. Evidently, nobody had ever seen anyone with a Reputation as high as Geldlich Flügel’s. Denner shook his head. It was a decidedly different experience than his first journey to the city, and considerably more pleasant. What lay ahead of them, on the other hand, was likely to be at least as miserable.



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:59 pm 
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Predation


Fisco, Denner, and Diana rode eastward into the wild forest from Wurzelberg for just over an hour before they were forced to remove the angel’s spell to allow Denner to concentrate on the location of Cyrryc Adda. Within moments of the spell’s removal, Denner collapsed in a convulsion that toppled him out of his saddle. Mercifully, he was unhurt in the fall, and he was able to stay awake and alert. Concentrating through the pain, Denner was able to correct their course immediately. When Diana reached over to replace her spell, however, Denner refused. Fisco and Diana shared a glance, but said nothing. Wordlessly, the three continued on toward Cyrryc Adda and the blood sample Denner needed in order to survive.


Another hour of riding, and two more slight course corrections from the Delver, brought them to the mouth of a cave. The cave opening was sunk somewhat into the ground and was overgrown with trees and vines from the forest around it. Fisco looked around for a long time, frowning deeper with each passing moment. Diana sat perfectly still atop her horse, her eyes locked on Fisco and her staff resting almost casually across her lap. Denner concentrated first on Cyrryc and then on the blood sample, and then finally pointed toward the cave.


“He’s in there,” Denner said simply.


“Well, obviously,” Fisco murmured. “I don’t like this. I expected…something.”


“What?”


“It doesn’t matter ‘what.’ Something. Anything. There’s nothing magical here at all. No enchantments, no warnings, nothing. There is nothing here that’s going to warn him about us.”


Denner shook his head. “But that’s good, isn’t it?”


Fisco didn’t say anything. He simply continued to scan the forest floor and the mouth of the cave. He was just about to spur his horse onward when the animal suddenly lurched upward. Instantly, Diana was out of her saddle and next to him, thrusting her long metal staff at the ground where the horse’s front hooves had been. With a sickening sound of cracking and squirting, the staff’s tip broke through the carapace of a large scorpion. Even with its fatal wound, the scorpion managed to sting at the metal staff three or four times before it died.


Diana looked up at Fisco, who had managed to calm his horse. “I sense dozens, perhaps hundreds of similar lives within. They are varied, but all seem strong. Predatory.”


Fisco nodded. “Are they…?”


Diana nodded.


“To you?”


She nodded again.


Fisco Vane sighed deeply. “Fabellian, I think you should stay out here. Actually,” he said, pausing for a long time, “maybe you should head back to my cottage and wait there.”


“I can’t do that,” the Delver said.


“I know how important this is to but, but listen. If Diana eases your pain, you’re no good to us, and if she doesn’t, you could go into one of your convulsions, and not get up again.”


Denner took a deep breath. “I’ll be careful.”


Fisco shook his head. “You did hear her, didn’t you, kid? Predators. Do you know anything about poisonous predators?”


“Of course, I do. I’ve read seventeen different books on the subject, the most complete of which contained seven hundred and ten artist renderings of venomous species that…”


Fisco frowned. “Is an artist’s rendering going to jump off the page and kill you?”


For a long moment, no one said anything. Finally, though, Denner broke the silence. “I know you don’t think much of me, Fisco. I know I get on your nerves. And if you don’t want to do this with me, I can’t blame you. But my life is hanging by a thread, and that thread is in that cave. I can’t…I can’t leave it to someone else to retrieve it. My life’s already at risk. I’m going.”


Fisco sighed. “You’re an annoying know-it-all, Fabellian, and sometimes you talk too much for your own good, but you’ve got fight. That counts for more than you know. A lot of people in your place would have curled up and died by now, especially when the alternative was to come to me.” Fisco paused and looked away. When he continued, his voice was quiet. “I want you to make it through this, kid. I want to help you make it through this.”


Denner hung his head. Finally, he spoke in a broken voice. “I need to be there, Fisco.”


Fisco stared for a long time, then looked at Diana. Silent words seemed to pass between the Shark and the Angel, and then Fisco nodded. “Alright, kid. But you better look away from that cave, or else you’re going to be blind and dumb, instead of just dumb.”


Denner was about to question what Fisco meant when he saw Diana step toward the entrance of the cave and hold her staff up. As the tip of the staff began to glow, Denner looked away. Even through his closed eyes, he could see the flash of blinding light, and could hear the sound of rushing energy fly into the cave’s mouth. A moment later, he looked back as Diana turned around. She was looking at Fisco as she spoke.


“The entrance is clear for perhaps a hundred paces. Beyond that, we must be careful with every step.”


Fisco nodded, and slipped down from his saddle, landing cautiously on one leg and then steadying himself with his cane. Denner followed the other ‘walker’s lead, and winced as pain shot through his body as he landed. His entire left side started to convulse, but with a sudden, stubborn surge of will, Denner managed to suppress it. He hoped that Fisco and Diana hadn’t noticed, but luck, as was usually the case for the Delver, was not with him.


“If that happens one more time,” Fisco warned slowly, “we’re leaving you behind no matter what you say.”


Denner turned around to look at Fisco, and was surprised to see the other ‘walker wasn’t even looking his direction. “How did you know?”


“Remember when I asked about predators? Well, predators sense weakness. It’s just what they do. And a shark is a hell of a predator.”


Denner said nothing, and the three of them ventured slowly into the cave. The scorch marks from Diana’s spell were visible along the walls and the floor, but soon, the darkness of the cave began to obscure everything. Diana compensated by conjuring a celestial light which hovered at the tip of her staff. The light was effective, with their path forward lit just enough to reveal the glinting eyes in the darkness around them. Diana led the way, with Fisco behind her, and Denner behind him. The Delver, therefore, found himself looking backwards more and more frequently as they moved deeper into the cave.


They moved slowly and paused often. Partly, it was Fisco’s movement that slowed them, partly it was Denner’s consistent pain, and partly it was Diana stopping to kill or scare away one of the venomous denizens of Cyrryc Adda’s cave. As they progressed deeper, the cave began to widen and grow and, oddly, the vegetation began to increase rather than recede. At first, the walls and floor of the cave had been covered by varying thicknesses of moss, but now, full bushes and vines slowed their progress. In time, even these grew to full-sized trees and a thick canopy. Finally, Fisco called a halt and brought the angel and the Delver in closer to him.


“What’s going on here?”


“There are large swaths of the cave’s ceiling that have crumbled or are otherwise missing,” Diana said. “The sunlight is mostly covered by the canopy, but it is there. I suspect much of this place has been artificially cultivated to provide a suitable ecosystem for something.”


“A snake!” Denner said suddenly.


“And other things, I bet,” Fisco said, frowning.


Denner shook his head and pointed at a nearby branch. “No, I mean there’s a snake!”


The other two looked over to see a massive snake coiled around the branch, staring at them through glowing but obscured eyes. With its length and proximity, it could likely have struck at any of them, and it seemed preparing to do just that. Diana squared up to the serpent, her staff glaring and ready. The snake hissed loudly at the threat, but darted away into the trees. Fisco spoke, but Diana did not turn to look at him as he did, instead keeping her angelic eyes trained on the darkness of the strange, subterranean forest.


“You ever seen anything like that in one of your books, Fabellian?”


Slowly, Denner nodded. “Yes, actually. It was a death-hood cobra.”


“Venomous?”


“Extremely. One bite kills in seconds.”


Fisco found a way to frown even deeper. He started looking around, seeing only cave and forest in front of them. Then he looked up. “You can fly, right, kid?”


“Well, I can sort of levitate a bit.”


Fisco sort of grunted as he continued to look around. “We may need to fly over this mess.”


“Um…” Denner started, then stopped.


Fisco groaned. “What is it, Fabellian?”


“I just… I don’t think that’s a good idea.”


“Why not. You afraid of heights?”


“No,” Denner said. “Well, a little, I guess. You never know when a levitation spell is going to cut out on you, but…”


“Get to the point.”


“Oh, right. The death-hood cobra can slither vertically faster than it can horizontally. And these trees go straight up to the cave’s ceiling.”


Fisco looked upward and swore. Without any further word, he and Diana continued on into the thicket, even more slowly and cautiously than before. Denner hurried after them, careful to put his feet down precisely where the others had placed theirs. The cave forest was almost completely black, and the thick trunks of the trees prevented Diana’s light from piercing more than a few paces in any direction. The sounds of the forest assaulted them constantly, and all of them, even Diana, found themselves scanning the darkness in every direction for any sign of movement, knowing that seeing it might mean they were already too late.


They had been walking for nearly half an hour when they came to a small clearing in the trees, only barely wide enough for the three of them to stand shoulder to shoulder. They stayed back for a long moment, wary of some sort of trap, before Diana ventured forward. She had taken only two steps into the clearing when a serpentine form dropped from the canopy above with an audible hiss. The death-hood cobra launched itself directly at the angel’s upper body, and before she could react, its fangs sank deep into her neck.


And they continued to fall until they hit the ground, and Diana disappeared completely.


The snake was visibly confused, but it did not have long to consider its mistake. The real Diana burst into the clearing almost instantly, her metallic staff coming down with a brutal thud on the creature’s skull, shattering it. Its entire length shuddered as it died, and the extremity of its tail continued to shake as Fisco and Denner cautiously stepped into the clearing. Keeping the venomous foe at a distance, Diana, forced it down, fangs first, into the soil, so that no one was at risk for stepping on them.


“Nice work, kid,” Fisco said to Denner. “How’d you know that snake was there?”


Denner just looked at Fisco.


“Oh, right. The thing.” He pointed to Denner’s head, as if to emphasize. “Speaking of, how long until we get to the other snake?”


“Not long,” Denner said, fighting back against the pain running through his body. “He’s very close now.”


Fisco nodded, looked Denner up and down one more time, and then indicated for Diana to continue on. Somehow, the underground forest seemed less dangerous after killing the cobra. Perhaps it had been the alpha predator, and the other creatures Cyrryc Adda had placed there were too afraid to attack its killer. Perhaps they had merely gained confidence, both in their victory and in their proximity to their goal. Whatever the reason, they pushed past the clearing quickly and without incident, and soon after, the trees began to thin and the cave opened up into a wide cavern.


Diana allowed her light to die down. It was no longer needed. The cavern walls were lined with iron sconces, each one blazing with flickering flames. The ground was smooth rock, and completely clear of the moss that had permeated the cave forest behind them. Along a far wall were set several large tables, each of them crowded with various tubes, vials, and other alchemical equipment. And in front of the center-most table, wearing his strange cloak with the false cobra’s hood, was Cyrryc Adda.


The snakefolk was facing away from Fisco, Denner, and Diana, but turned his head slightly in their direction as they emerged from the forest. “Welcome to my little pit,” he yelled over the wide distance of the cavern. “Which of you would like to die first?”



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:59 pm 
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Remuneration


“You Cyrryc Adda?” Fisco said, advancing a few short steps into the cavern.


“That’s right,” the snake answered, elongating the “s” as he spoke. “But I do not recall inviting anyone down here. Who are you?”


“Tax man.” Fisco said simply, taking another step.


“What?” Cyrryc said, turning fully to face the three interlopers from across the room. “What do you mean?”


“I think you know,” Fisco continued. “Sooner or later, everybody pays.”


Cyrryc slithered forward a few paces. “I do not…” he stopped suddenly, and even over the distance between them, Denner could see the snake’s eyes widen. “Tax man! Montemord!”


Fisco nodded, stepping forward again. “I knew I remembered your name from somewhere. The plane of Montemord. The city of Grafstown. And somebody poisoned the well before taxes could be collected, made everyone too sick to work, too sick to pay.”


Cyrryc hissed. “And somebody ruined my experiment before I could learn anything! Not to mention making it impossible to work on Montemord ever again!”


“You started it,” Fisco said, then glanced over at Denner. “Which seems to be a theme with you. You have something I want, and you’re going to give it to us.”


There was fury blazing in the snakefolk’s eyes as he slithered forward once again. “What I will give you, Tax man, is only what you deserve! I will see you writhing in agony before this day ends!”


“Better than you have tried,” Fisco said, stepping forward. “And they’re pretty much all dead now. So if you want to last long enough to crawl back under some rock somewhere, you’d better give this kid his blood back. ‘Cause if you don’t, you and I are going to have one too many problems for me to overlook.”


Cyrryc Adda seemed to notice Denner for the first time then, and he reared up and hissed loudly at the sight. “Fabellian! You!”


“I see you remember him,” Fisco said smugly.


“Remember him?” Cyrryc yelled. “He’s the reason I’m in this blasted cave instead of back in my shop! That tatzelwurm you released in my lab escaped and broke out into Wurzelberg! My reputation was destroyed, and I had to flee the city.” The snake paused, collecting himself. “But I’ll have my revenge. On them and on you.”


“Quite the optimist, aren’t you?” Fisco asked, stepping forward again.


Cyrryc smiled a cold, reptilian smile. “It’s easy to be confident when you are dealing with fools.”


Fisco took another step forward. “You really don’t have anything to be confident about.”


“Oh, no?” Cyrryc said, pleased with himself. “Well, let’s just say I’m not the only deadly recluse here.”


Before Fisco could respond, Cyrryc Adda brought his hands together and summoned his mana. In the cavern, directly above Fisco’s head, the form of a large spider began to take shape. Before it fully formed, Fisco casually waved one hand, and the form dissipated completely.


“Sorry to dash your hopes, Scales.”


Cyrryc simply laughed. “Dash my hopes? Nonsense. You fell right into my trap.”


Suddenly, another shape emerged out of the aether, this one on the ground between Fisco and Cyrryc Adda, and much, much larger than the spider. It was a massive, reptilian beast, with green scales above and pearl below, with webbed feet, claws, spines, and a tongue that seemed carved of stone. Fisco, for the first time since entering the cavern, took a step backward. Cyrryc laughed.


“Tell me, Tax man, are you familiar with basilisks?”


Fisco shrugged. “I’ve stared down my share of them.”


Cyrryc ignored him. “Fascinating creatures. So many different forms, yet the one common trait is a truly, spectacularly potent poison. As you’ll soon see, of course.”


Fisco looked the creature up and down slowly. “Cute trick. Want to see mine?”


Fisco Vane raised his wooden cane and started moving it around with an awkward flourish. After a few moments, he slammed it back down against the cave’s floor and nodded, satisfied. Nothing happened.


Cyrryc Adda laughed. “You are not as fearful as I was led to believe on Montemord, Tax man. They told horror stories of you there, you know. I admit, I am disappointed.”


Fisco shrugged. “Some ghost stories are better than others. Ever heard of Ol’ Smokey?”


“Enough of this,” Cyrryc said, his smile fading. “It’s time for my Basilisk to end you.”


Fisco nodded. “You get one shot. Make it your best.”


Without warning, the Basilisk’s stone tongue darted forward to impale Fisco Vane. As the envenomed appendage reached him, however, Fisco’s body became like smoke in the air, and the Basilisk’s tongue passed right through him. The creature withdrew, confused, and Fisco reformed back into himself. “You missed,” Fisco said slowly. “My turn.”


Instantly, Diana’s form, now floating high above the Basilisk, erupted into a celestial glow, and she plummeted downward toward the beast. The crash of her impact sounded like a meteorite striking the ground, and the Basilisk erupted in a spray of scales and gore. The three planeswalkers turned their heads away from the sight, and when they looked back, Diana was standing there, calm and expressionless, her metal staff held calmly at her side. Fisco stepped forward slowly to join her.


“Now then,” he began. “Down to business. Denner, get your blood.”


Denner nodded, and followed his delver senses to the far right table. There he found a simple vial of red liquid, just as he had remembered it. Cyrryc Adda was too stunned to react, and with an angel staring him down, he did not dare move to stop Denner. The Delver returned to Fisco’s side before the Shark continued.


“Now, as for your so-called revenge, know that Denner Fabellian and Wurzelberg are off-limits to you. If I find out you forget that, I’m coming for you. Got it?”


Cyrryc snarled, but gave no other acknowledgment.


Fisco nodded. “Lastly, we still need to settle accounts for Grafstown. So my angel friend here is going to destroy this cave. All of it. And everything inside. And she’s going to do it in about five minutes. If you’re still here, you’re going with it. If not, well, just keep in mind that I remember you now. And I’ll be watching for you.”


Cyrryc Adda hissed loudly. “I’ll see you are paid for this, Tax man. I never forget these sorts of debts. Remember that!”


Fisco shrugged. “Let’s make it two minutes.”


Cyrryc stared for a long moment, and then vanished into a puff of black mist.


Fisco turned to Denner. “You make bad choices in enemies, kid. If we hadn’t surprised him, we’d be in some serious trouble right now.”


Denner nodded. “I know.” He stopped, then looked Fisco Vane directly in the eyes. “Thank you, Fisco. You may have saved my life.”


“Won’t be the first time.” Then Fisco paused, too. “You’re welcome, kid. Good luck.”


Denner turned away and prepared to planeswalk back to Oorkonde, and Lady Nasina, who was waiting for the blood sample. Then Denner turned back. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do to repay you for this?”


Fisco shook his head. “This one’s on me.” Denner smiled, and took two steps away. “Actually,” Fisco said suddenly. Denner turned to face him. “Two things. First, just as a favor, don’t mention to anyone that you’ve dealt with me. A lot of people think I’m dead, and I’d like to keep it that way.”


Denner suddenly thought back to the coin Fisco had given him, which he had found broken in the chest where he had stored it. The Delver nodded in understanding. “Easy enough. What’s second?”


”If you get yourself sorted out, and if you feel like it, only if you feel like it, stop by the cottage again. You might point me in the direction of one or two people.” He held up his little black book. “I have a few more names to cross out.”


Denner nodded. “I’ll try. I can’t promise…” He started, but immediately stopped. “I’ll try. It’s the least I can do to pay you for this.”


Fisco nodded once, and Denner vanished into the aether. Without a word, Fisco opened his book and flipped through the pages, then scratched a few brisk lines through a name there. He nodded again, and put the book back into his pocket. He glanced at Diana, waiting impassively next to him.


“Let’s go home.”



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