Joshua Olsen’s Cantrips & Catastrophies
A Magic the Gathering FanFiction short story
*Part 1 can be found here
Old Rutstein’s Fine Wares, Selhoff, Nephalia
00:48 since first contact
Old Rutstein was one of Innitrad’s most successful traders, his range of shops numerous beyond any of his competitors and variety of wares diverse almost beyond reason. Whether you wanted a high-quality silver-edged axe (Kessig store, dangling in the front window) or a cursed urn (Nephalia store, collecting dust on the third shelf from the back), one of Old Rutstein’s stores had it.
Rutstein, despite his advanced years, travelled nearly constantly between his stores, slowly but surely winding his way across all the major population centers of Innistrad. Fortunately for him, he was on a carriage to Stensia that night. Fortunate not because he was in any danger of marauding insect-man hybrids flying around, but because Quennus had decided to pay the Selhoff store a visit after hours, and was not in a diplomatic mood, nor a mercantile one.
With a wave of a hand, the metal lock on the front door reformed into liquid slag, dripping down the door and onto the cobblestones. With no lock, the door swung wide open in the storm winds. Quennus strode inside with purpose, forcing himself to scan the shelves methodically. Normally one of the view-sets in his mechanical eye could discern magic in objects, but in Old Rutstein’s store the whole place radiated the stuff.
Impatiently Quennus stalked the isles. “Come on. There must be something…”
He avoided coming into contact with a serrated handaxe that was somehow still dripping blood, and covered around the haft with some sort of organic web-like growth.
The large ornate knife studded with gems was similarly a bad idea. As his hand moved to close around it a kind of far-off drawn-out howl slashed into his mind. The hand was swiftly retracted.
And on the top shelf, there was a genuine looking spellbook, covered in purple symbols and held behind a sealed glass dome. Quennus went to investigate extricating the book, but merely looking at it filled his mind’s eye with visions of such cruelty and spite that he hurriedly threw a cloth over it.
“Something that won’t try to kill me or suck my soul out would be nice! Is there anything here of use?!” ranted Quennus in exasperation.
Outside, completely unconcerned with the frustration of a planeswalker, the storm clouds shifted aside for a moment, letting pure moonlight filter down into the window of the shop. At the same time, the bells tolled sonorously to signal midnight.
With an abrupt screech a small unassuming shortsword, long-held in a glass display case, let out a burst of raw power, shattering the glass of the display case with concussive force. Baleful azure energy wafted off the thing, and the lanterns around it jittered in their frames. Cautiously, Quennus stepped forward, wary for some kind of attack.
“I remember you…”
He’d seen the dusty thing a few days ago while shopping in disguise. Rutstein had clearly been trying to part with some of his more unappetizing merchandise and had twisted Quennus’ ear for some minutes on the supposedly storied history of it.
“There is rich history in a blade like this,” he had spieled with a conspiratorial wink. “Its previous owners had some stories to share, I’m certain,” he had added.
At the time Quennus had dismissed the tidbits as salesmanship. It seemed he was wrong on this occasion.
Running his hands over the blade, Quennus marveled at the workmanship of the thing. It was ornate, clearly intended for some kind of special purpose. Sapphires winked in the hilt and metallic demon heads had been wrought into the steel, their engraved faces now glowing blue with power. The blade had lengthened by several centimeters, and had warped into something more akin to a barbed stinger. The differences were more than just steel-deep, the blade was suffused with fell magic. A quick probe revealed that dire curses and dark deeds had been lavished upon the sword at times when the sun was not out to unbind them, and at night they activated, making the small sword a more potent weapon than any greatsword. After taking a moment to make sure that the inherent sorceries were designed to cause harm to the wielder’s enemies and not the wielder, Quennus took up the Ashmouth blade, unsurprised that it felt as if it had been forged specifically for him. He gave the sword a few experimental swings. Perfect balance, and it seemed to zip through the air with supernatural ease. Which, thanks to magic, it probably did.
“An exquisite piece of quality. I knew you wouldn’t let me down Rutstein.” Quennus conjured a scabbard to hold the sword (it didn’t seem wise to grip it any more than was strictly necessary) and moments later he was out in the rain again.
“Now, Brund, where did you get to?” Reins snapped lightly, and Neka took to the sky once more.
12 Whitegryff Lane, Selhoff, Nephalia
1:21 since first contact
The street was filled with a heavy silence as Neka came in for a landing. Brund’s residence was a compact little two-storey wedged between an inn and an apothecary, open to a claustrophobic cobblestone alley. Quennus had expected his contact to be waiting for him on the street, but only the plinking of the rain greeted him. Hommel shouldn’t have been hard to spot. Innistrad bucked the trend that suggested that cities never slept, once the sun went down the streets were basically deserted. Drawing the Ashmouth Blade, Quennus patted Neka three times, an instruction that he was done and she could go. With an affectionate chirp, the moondrake took to the air and in moments was gone. Now Quennus was truly on his own, and already he missed the company of another living creature. Slowy, cautiously, Quennus advanced on Brund’s house. He could see through the gloom that the front door was open, swinging back and forth in the storm wind.
“Investigator, are you there?”
“Investigator, its Kordel. If you’re there, answer me now.”
Still nothing. Was that a rustling, somewhere behind the door?
“Hommel, damn you! Hommel, answer me now!”
A floorboard creaked from within the dark depths of the house, the sound distorted by the distance and the storm winds. Quennus’ pulse spiked, his heart thumping in his metal-plated chest.
It was time to act, that’s what he’d come here for; not to be hissing at what was probably a horribly mutated Brund. With a surge of adrenaline, Qunnus lurched into a wound-up kick, belting the door open with force. Quennus sprang into the room, whirling around, scanning for threats. It was pitch-black, but there was a light source coming from the stairs….
“It’s a good thing you’re a genius, Kordel, because you wouldn’t make it as an investigator. You’re about as quiet as a werewolf with a stubbed toe.”
The light resolved itself into a middle-age man with a prominent nose, dressed in well-made clothes and bearing a heavy iron lantern. A superior smirk was on the man’s face.
Quennus let out a sigh of relief, shearing his sword. “Hommel, you’re a sight for sore eyes. I thought I told you to stay outside.”
Hommel shrugged, unconcerned. “There’s a mystery to be solved, Kordel. I’ve skirted around it for months, keeping on the edge, following your instructions, observing and reporting only. Well now, something big is going down, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.” Curiosity blazed from him like a palpable energy.
“Fine. Let’s get to it. I need to know where he is.”
“Way ahead of you, come on up to Brund’s lab. It’s… informative. You’ll want to see it.”
The pair snuck up the stairs, the feeling that they weren’t supposed to be there present in every breath, every step. The attic was cavernous, containing bookcase after bookcase filled with ancient tomes of magic and workbenchs covered with experiments. Quennus immediately hustled over to a gigantic desk, assessing the papers and books strewn haphazardly.
Brund’s deteriorating state of mind was evident in his everywhere. This wasn’t how labwork was supposed to be conducted – precise, ordered, and controlled. This was messy and haphazard, sweat-stained and hurried. Not how any laudable science was meant to be. Quennus rifled through the stacks of papers, each one adding a piece of a puzzle that no man should want to solve. Hommel was meanwhile checking out the textbooks on the closest bookshelf.
“The Mechanics of Insect Politics… The Metamorphic Imperative… Theories of Cross-Species Trans-substantiation…, geez, this guy wasn’t working with a full deck of cards, was he? What the hell was he trying to do? ”
“The problem wasn’t him trying. It was in him succeeding. I don’t know what lore he was following up, but it has to be…. ah ha!”
Beneath a stack of papers there was a small leatherbound tome, full of diagrams and text. Brund’s research log. Eagerly Quennus flipped through it. Entries, each an all-too-brief flash of insight into a dark and twisted mind, leapt out at Quennus.
“Entry #1: I have had a dream…for a work that, if it is realized, will revolutionize how we live our lives. I am eager to begin at once…”
Quennus flipped through; there’d be time to scrutinize this book cover to cover later, right before he burnt it all to ash.
“Entry #43: How my test subjects scream and howl as I refine the procedure! If only they could understand the importance of what I am doing…”
“Entry #78: Unfortunately, all my test animals have died or escaped, so I shall be the final subject. I feel no fear. This is a momentous night.”
Shortly after this entry, the neat handwriting began to become more scrawled and messy.
“Entry #113: The end result is…. Unexpected, but I have made progress. It is only now of course that I realize that the project is not yet done. Metamorphosis is a process…”
Quennus flipped to the end. The final entry was dated just last night, barely recognizable as written english.
“Entry #147: All that is left is to share my findings with others. I know just the person subject…
I Have awakened from the falsehood that is humanity”
That was it. The rest of the book was blank, though spattered with stains, some sticky to the touch. Quennus snapped it shut, looking up for Hommel. When he did, he noticed that the orange glow from the lantern had obscured the moonlight filtering into the room. Filtering in from a huge hole in the wall where once a window had been. Whatever had left the laboratory had been too big for the window, and had made its own exit to the outside world. Violently.
“Avacyn preserve us…”
“Even Avacyn might have trouble with the thing that did this. Has to be at least seven and a half feet tall, based on the dimensions of the hole. Tough-skinned too, I’d say.”
“Why do you think that?” mumbled Quennus distractedly.
“Not think. There’s a clue. You gotta learn to look for clues. They’re always there.” Hommel pointed. Quennus followed his finger to the edge of the hole, where a piece of skin hung from a piece of splintered wood. The skin wasn’t soft and malleable, but hard. Quennus snatched it and pocketed the evidence.
“You’ve done great, Hommel, premier work as always. Here’s the extra gold I mentioned. And now you need to forget this.”
“Kordel, be reasonable. This case…”
“…is not your concern. Believe me when I say, for you, the case is over. If you knew what I knew, you would be glad to hear that. There will be other mysteries, Investigator, ones much less hazardous for you. Look at the size of the whole in the wall. I’m tracking whatever did that. That’s on me, and I’m okay with that. But I won’t have your blood on my hands. Go home. Please.”
Hommel stiffened. When he spoke his voice was brittle, laden with anger. “Fine. But before I go, if my services are no longer needed, then you won’t want me to point out that I know where Brund has gone to, seeing as he is no longer… in residence. Right?”
“Brund? You know where he is? Tell me!”
Hommel gestured to a scattered sheaf of papers on the bench.
“You were too busy pursuing the fantastic. The answer lay in the mundane. Land purchase records, deeds of title, delivery dockets, receipts…a paper trail. Brund bought a tract of very isolated farmland outside of town. Nothing on it but a dilapidated barn and there’s evidence he had some materials brought out to it once. Sound like what you want?”
“It’s on the estuary, near the stone bridge. Follow the waterway, you can’t miss…”
Quennus was already running, launching himself out the gaping hole in the room. Midair, his wings snapped open, and he launched up into the sky, flapping hard to gain height. In moments he had cleared the buildings and soared with purpose in the direction of a still river, a dark speck against the sky. He didn’t look back.
Left alone, Hommel stepped over to the hole, peering out of it to scan the sky. Did Kordel just bloomin’ fly? With wings? Where the hell had they come from?
After a long moment, Hommel stepped away from the hole, turned up his collar, and patted his pocket for his pipe. He lit the pipe as he continued to stare at the cloudy night sky.
“Now that…is a mystery.”
*Part 3 can be found here.
Magic the Gathehring fanfiction by Joshua Olsen