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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Agents of Artifice - Chapter 19

We last saw Jace on his last chance mission to return to the good graces of crime boss and mentor Tezzeret. Certainly a pivotal moment in Jace's life, but the question is, which way will it pivot?

Agents of Artifice - Chapter 19

Jace is back from the Church of the Incarnate Soul, but it looks like he's not back for long. His mission was a failure, and he came back for only one thing, one person. Kallist greets the newly arrived Jace and is surprised to see him back so soon. He asks the simple question, "What happened?", and that sends the mind-reader's thoughts spinning.

Jace remembered the moment he touched the mind of Questor Talqez. He sensed the pure devotion in him. He discovered the truths and lies behind all the rumors surrounding the church. And in the end he couldn't get himself to both harm a man that truly believed something greater than himself (Especially when Jace is part of that something) nor could he allow Tezzeret to gain the power that the church's knowledge would give him.

Jace failed, and he was a dead man in Tezzeret's eyes. At least he would be when Tezzeret found out. There was still time to come back for his friend. Kallist has been his partner on and off for three years and would no doubt be the first questioned in regards to Jace's disappearance. Not only would Kallist have to endure all manner of tortures before Tezzeret and Paldor were convinced of both his innocence and ignorance to Jace's whereabouts, but even after it was over there would likely be a cloud of suspicion lingering over his head for the rest of his career. His standing within the Consortium would be irreparably harmed.

(I guess that makes sense.)

And with that line of thought, Kallist knows he's right. And so Jace tells him the plan.

...In Paldor's Office...

Jace confidently walks in and quickly disables Paldor, spelling him unconcious.

"And what would we have done if Tezzeret had been here?"

"Jace shrugged once, moving toward the leftmost wall. "Died, I imagine."

But Tezzeret wasn't there, so the plan continued such as it was. There was an artifact in the office that was the "break in case of emergency" type of artifact that would signal Tezzeret to appear no matter where he was in the multiverse. Jace took it, hid it, and created a replica illusion of it broken on the floor. With Paldor in a induced state of unconsciousness, they hoped to gain a few hours (if not days) head start. Kallist locked the door and began prying at the window to use as their escape route, but it was a tough little thing that took much longer than they liked. Right when he finally removes the window from the wall, the door shatters open and Baltrice fills the doorway.

(A trap?)

She takes one look at them, and tells them to go. (Oh?) She owes Jace her life for what happened on Kamigawa, so she's giving them this chance. There wasn't time to question what was going on, so they take the opportunity, and Jace casts a flight spell and sends them hurtling up into the sky.

Baltrice watches them leave with a smile on her face. Her immediate rival for power within the Consortium was on the run, and now there was no one left to threaten her position.

...Days later...

They travel to the furthest end of the world that Jace can think of, a marshland district by the coast called Lurias. The buildings weren't as nice as back in Dravhoc, but it is out at the edge of nowhere and Jace's banker had already funneled a significant portion of his money here under the assumed pseudonym of Darrim.

They buy local garb, and rent a place, but the quality of life isn't really anything either of them want to put up with for long. To make matters worse, they it is important to stay cooped up and out of sight for at least a few days with nothing to do except argue about how they're going to survive after the money runs out. Kallist tells Jace that even a place such as this has men of wealth and power that have secrets they want to stay secret. It would be easy to blackmail them. Jace at first tells him that blackmail wouldn't be wisest way to keep low, but eventually reveals that he simply refuses to do so. Going back to his old ways will mean that all his time at the Consortium will have meant nothing. (More on this later.) This wasn't a simple and calm conversation however, there was plenty of pent up frustration and tension in the air, and with that last straw Kallist picks up his coat and walks out the door.

...Back at the Consoritum...

Baltrice walks the halls, and past the imposing figure (that may or may not be an animated suit of armor), his is impossibly large sword, that always keeps watch at Tezzeret's door. Inside, Tezzeret is  happy to see her and exclaims that he's almost done with his Infinite Globes that should prevent him from being trapped again like he was against Nicol Bolas's forces... then Baltrice interrupts. She bears bad news about Jace. A report worse than simply failing at his mission.

Tezzeret sat utterly still; even his breathing seemed to have ceased. And then Baltrice heard the sound of rending metal, saw one of the desk's levers snap off in the grip of the artificer's etherium hand.

"What," Tezzeret whispered softly, "has he done to me now?"

(Did this take place days since the escape? Did he really not know for that long despite being physically in the base and not on some other plane?)

...Back in Lurias...

The two have calmed a bit and walk the streets, but concerns about money (and thus their entire futures) continues to be brought up. They decide to take a peek into what appears to be the nicest restaurant and bar in the district and get seated at a booth. Kallist insists they figure out their plans, and Jace switches the topics to more immediate concerns, such as coming up with who they are now. For some reason Kallist isn't convinced they need false identities, and bizarrely Jace agrees that it might not be absolutely necessary but they should still consider it. (This is coming from a man who already had several bank accounts set up under false names?)

In the middle of the discussion someone in the next booth addresses both of them by name.

Both turn, ready to attack, and the woman calms them down. She tells them that if she was after them, she would have already set their booth on fire. There is no recognition in Jace's face, but Kallist knows who it is. It's Liliana Vess.

Somehow, she's also on the run from the Consortium. She happened to flee to this same location for the same reason that Jace did, it's both far from the immediate reach of the Consortium and it's rich in mana. She's on the run, but isn't completely lacking in spies and resources. Once she found out they were here, she chose to seek them out to suggest banding together in their shared dire circumstances.

This is all much too convenient for Kallist, and Jace as well, and there is only one way to know for sure. Liliana agrees to be submit to a mind reading. Jace enters her mind, senses her fascination with life and death, her ambition and passion, and feels an odd... texture... that he'd never felt before. But as soon as he had enough to confirm her story, he didn't take it a step further for fear of angering her and creating another enemy.

Slowly, Jace opened his eyes. Liliana blinked once, then shook her head.

"Was it good for you?" she asked with a grin. Then, as Jace fumbled for an answer, she rose. "Well, I'm glad you're here. It'll be nice to talk to someone about something other than fishing and how far the swamp's expanded this year. I'm quite certain I'll be seeing you both around."

And just like that, she vanished into the crowd, with two separate stares - one flummoxed, one suspicious still - trialing in her wake.

(That's how to leave an impression. Startle them, quick introductions, then leave them confused.)

* * *

It's Later

Time to discuss Jace's hesitation to resume the tried and true practice of blackmail. I'm not fond of situations where the hero doesn't kill the villain because "If we do, it'll make us the same as them." I hate the line whenever I come across it. Hate it. It always feel like a cop-out.  This wasn't quite that, but it's close. It does make some sense considering how proud Jace has been of his growth as a mage and how far he's risen in life, so going back to what he used to be will certainly grate on him a little, but...

But Jace chose this course of action when he deliberately decided to not completely warp the mind of Questor Talqez. He felt strongly that the particular kind of power that the church would give Tezzeret through their specialized knowledge was something that shouldn't be in his hands. He took a moral stance on the issue, and decided he was going to walk the path of "right". He did that knowing full well he was giving up his place in the Consortium and would have to be on the run. And now he can't go back to what he used to be? He had to know that was a strong possibility.

And besides, who says he even has to! He's learned so much, he's grown so much, he can apply that newfound knowledge and power in new ways to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

The line of reasoning almost makes sense, but not when it's explained away as a one-liner. I would have certainly appreciated a little bit more elaboration in that particular point of the chapter and would gladly sacrifice some of build up of the tension between the two.

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