Project #2 – Act 2: The Torch of the Shard Pt5

Time to be an actress, or is it time to come clean? Will this righteous and sensible woman judge me if I tell her the truth? I wonder if she’ll notice if I leave details out. That blasted ball of indestructible joy silently judges me with those innocent eyes enough. But gods, how much easier would life be if she could accept it all and help me get somewhere…

Maris looked back into Tarklie’s eyes. Those beaten, weary and somehow lost eyes.

“I was born on the shard called Esper. Like Grixis it was dark, but there was less surviving and more living. People on Esper bettered themselves, advanced, educated and strived to greatness. In comparison to the achievements of the people here in this district, everyone on Esper achieved greatness. Some obviously more than others. There were slums there where people hunted for scrap to offer the higher classes, but they were more likely to die and stay dead. Anyway, Esper, lots of water, very bright lines of magic floating in the sky and what have you. In fairness I had never seen a tree until I came to Grixis, although there wasn’t a whole lot to these ones. Esper didn’t really have much in the way of natural life. Most of its inhabitants lengthened their lifespans with excessively priced magical metal alloys. I hear since the shards conjoined they’ve been learning a great deal about the nature’s order as it flows into their borders.”

“I’m waffling at you dear; I can tell you’re tired. Anyway, I was born into a fairly middle class family.”

Middle class for Grixis darling. You weren’t in the Hollow but your house wasn’t far away from the pools.

“Both my parents worked at the Academy, my father an apprentice and my mother a scholar.” Hah! She was a damned librarian! “I suppose that’s why I took a shining to Ting so quickly. On Esper nearly everything is mechanical, so he felt like picking up a piece of familiarity while I was here. I don’t think my father quite made it to the expertise required to make such a fancy construct, but he almost certainly would have made him look a sight prettier!”

“Most of the academic elites were enthralled by the use of Etherium, the rarest of metals, used in almost every advanced device and construct the Hegemon employed in the armies and service. They used it for nearly everything until supplies ran so low during the war between the shards; I thought the government itself might collapse. No doubt the upper echelons had hoards of the stuff. Regardless, my father and his master were in the process of learning to create more of the stuff, as pretty much nearly every scientist at that time was. They failed, as they all did. One day a cloud of dragons flew over the Academy, put a few holes in it, and were driven off once the ever punctual drakes arrived. That was not before significant losses – the masters and the scientists were ever so worried about the stocks of etherium that might have been lost, completely indifferent to the fact that among the dozens of piles of dust my parents were little more than a memory.”

“By that point I was in my late teens, and my fate had already been decided long before that to become a wizard. I had been training under a particularly dreary Vedalken – four handed fellow, not sure which ones were real – he taught me so slowly that I took to learning how to graft from the more time efficient teachers.” You traded your father’s etherium flakes for lessons on black magic and spells to bypass doors. “That light spell you saw when we came in, I was forced to perfect that for a solid week. ‘Steady light!” he used to say, “Spells are as much art as efficiency.” Blah blah blah.” Maris began mimicking mouth movements with her hands.

“His art didn’t help him much when I slipped through his door one evening and took this.” Maris produced a thick burnished key from her chest.

Tarklie looked closely and noticed a kind of flow to the metal. As if by some sort of command, Ting sped in like an excited puppy and stopped just short, staring between Tarklie, the key and Maris.

“What does it unlock?” Tarklie asked.

“Everything.” Maris smiled. Ting stared intently at Maris.

“Anyway…” Maris popped her treasure back in a hidden breast pocket. “You can imagine he never saw or heard from me again. With the news of my parents making it back to me at the speed an undead can successfully walk a tightrope; I turned straight to my survival instincts. I took what I needed.” And more. “And I honed my skills in making knowledge my power over man. I had been left with nothing, and the people of the shard were no more interested in assisting their ex-state employee’s next of kin than they were interested in the growth cycle of a potted plant. I was simply expected to join the filth in the hollow and eke out a living on scrap.”

“Wait a minute…” Tarklie interrupted.

“What can’t your razor sharp thought process comprehend about my story darling?” Maris piped up.

“Not Esper. The key. Why did you make Ting bash down that door earlier?”

“People were watching.” Maris shrugged. “It’s not as if I could make myself invisible once we’re being watched, open a door that doesn’t belong to me and then we stroll in. I might be impulsive but I tend to think of things in terms of long term consequences. I can thank my quadruple handed ear beater of a teacher for that. Plus Ting needs to feel valued once in a while.”

“Now then. I had come to the point where I had nowhere left to go, and was fast becoming a known thief around the easier-to-enter parts. I think the tolerance for my presence in the more civilised part of town was fast waning and I needed to look for further afield opportunities. You’ve known me for one evening and you must understand my needs to rise the ranks. I was existing on Esper. I could not just exist. So I walked towards the center of the shards, past the Dwindling Sea and along the Glass Dunes and ended up in Grixis.”

“I know what you’re thinking already, why dump survival in a society of living people for a dark expanse of dead earth, trees and walking dead. The answer is twofold. First, the opposite end of Esper is just a giant sea, and sailing a boat solo towards Bant isn’t exactly the easiest of tasks. Secondly, and the thing I learnt very quickly after I made it to Torchlight, the people here have no drive to better themselves. That’s the Esperite side of me shining through, but I knew when I made it here that I could build myself up among these people and really become someone. I have lived here for nearly two decades and I have finally made it this far.”

“And yet you hate it.” Tarklie bluntly laid down what she could plainly see.

“Yes. Yes, I hate it. I feel like I’m destined for something more, and now I’m at the top of what’s here it’s like I’ve hit a glass ceiling. I’ve gone from an elitist society that trod me down while I was at my most vulnerable, to becoming the elitist society. But they’re two very different things on these two shards. Here I am, queen of bribes and information, hiding in my home under a mountain surrounded by the dead and the ones that torment them. The issue is the people here have nothing to offer, what small details I hold in my head are nothing. I could blackmail my way through the market district and still only come out of it with a pair of stitched rugs, a few human fingers and a new hole in my back. The most valuable things here are the bits I brought with me.”

Tarklie eyed the bag at Maris’ feet.

“You do not sound like a pleasant person.”

“I was given very little choice given the surroundings.” Maris couldn’t tell if she was losing Tarklie or not. That stern face was calculating and judging away and she hated being unable to see what was going on in the background of that mind.

“I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve lived in a role for so long I know nothing else. I feel like despite our clear differences, you and I are the same at our core. We’ve both been forced into a life with no opportunity-

“Speak for yourself.” Maris interjected.

“No opportunity to change. To do what we’ve wanted to do.” Tarklie looked back at Maris for a response.

Don’t screw this one up Maris, there’s a right answer that this girl wants and you need to find it.

“Where do you suppose this opportunity to change lives wise old crone. I can guarantee the best opportunity on Grixis is a very very deep grave and a few hundred years of peace and quiet. We have a shard of beasts that will squash you and not notice, a shard of dragons that will squash you and notice, possibly on purpose, and a shard of knights and order. Each one has suddenly become enriched by the imposing presence of their neighbours. The shards are at war with the very prospects that sit at odds with their personal values.” Maris was growing increasingly tired of talking, her brain ached and she wanted to retreat from everything that had happened in the last day.

“Instead of picking a side in a war I and likely you know nothing about, we should make opportunity for ourselves, in a better place than this and your home shard. Somewhere with light and people with values.” Of all the things she missed right now, the five suns of Mirrodin shone brightly in her mind.

“And valuables.” Maris raised an eyebrow with that sly smile of hers, Tarklie responded with a stern stone gaze. “Darling you are too easy to tease. But give the whole change thing time to work. The way the twig is bent is the way the tree will grow, and bending a tree is a lifelong task.”

“On Mirrodin you can bend the trees if you heat them to hundreds of degrees, then the metal bends quite willingly.” Tarklie smiled at Maris, offering her some comfort that not all was lost in this conversation between such diverse people.

“I don’t tan well. But then I haven’t seen a real sun in the sky, let alone five. Perhaps that should be one of our shared goals. We need to find us somewhere sunny to set up shop. Whatever shop is.” Maris sat in silence for a moment, waiting for Tarklie to give her some kind of clue as to what she proposed.

“We’ll sleep on it. I feel like I haven’t slept in days, and my ears need less Maris noise in them. When we wake up in the morning we’ll draw out our plans. Deal?” Tarklie thrust out the only arm with a hand attached towards Maris.

Maris considered it for a moment, peered around her house, and then settled on Ting. His mechanical eyes were beaming at her. It was as though he could send his thoughts through his eyes and she could hear him telling her to do it. He had been with her the longest, had stuck by her side and accepted her. She took Tarklie’s hand and shook it delicately. She doubted at her age that she could significantly change her ways, but if Tarklie could put up with her for long enough then they might just find something worth her sticking with. They both needed to get out of Grixis, but for very different reasons.

“You have yourself a deal commander captain sir.” She made a military salute with one hand theatrically and then pushed herself up. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ll excuse myself to bed. I imagine Ting has been making the other room up for you.”

She took her sack of mysteries into the other room and shut the door, leaving Tarklie and Ting to their own devices. Not a sound came out of her room from that point onwards. Tarklie stared at her hands and then looked over at Ting, still waiting for Tarklie to make her move.

“Do you have a story to tell me?” She asked in gest.

Ting’s lenses shifted as he looked away, a thought rolling around in his head before looking back at Tarklie with careful consideration. Tarklie didn’t quite believe what she had seen; she didn’t expect Ting to show such sapience. Somewhere inside those big eyes, this machine was thinking like a person. She knew only of two machines that had such abilities, one of which was long dead, the other, its creator, was on a never ending quest to undo the damage he had done with the Phyrexian oil.

“Have you heard of the great silver golem Karn?” Tarklie asked Ting.

Ting shook his head.

Worth a shot.

“I wish you could talk little one.”

Ting simply nodded back.

Little one. That was what it called me, in the void between planes.

Tarklie stood up, her head aching with exhaustion and overflowing with information she needed to take in. She walked into the other room and peered around the door, lit only by candlelight. It was nothing special, just a bunk with a pillow, a slightly more appealing looking blanket than those used by the people elsewhere, and a table that the candle stood on. Without even removing a single item of clothing, Tarklie slumped onto the bed and fell asleep within minutes.

Ting followed close behind, took one last cursory glance around the room, and then focused his eyes onto the blank and empty wall.

I wish I could speak.

I wish I could close my eyes and sleep.

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