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PostPosted: Sun Mar 29, 2015 1:21 am 
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Trigger Warning!











Vigilance

“THE LEGION PROTECTS” was the text on the top of the bold poster plastered across the brick wall. Beneath those words was an image of ranks of soldiers, holding their fists high, against the background of a rising sun – but the sun was set with a fist emblem as well, the signet of the Boros Legion. Beneath that were the words “ENLIST TODAY!” Upon those words fell a spray of red blood, following in the wake of a tooth that ricocheted off the wall. And the source of that stain was a girl in an old and worn dress, whose face Officer Dimitri Peshkov had just introduced to a gauntlet-hardened fist.

She was one of three of the guildless hooligans who thought it was funny to throw small stones at the helmed heads of the Boros guard – of the other two, one lay still and quiet on the ground in the wake of Officer Sasha Ordochev’s lightning helix, and the other had run off, Officer Vladimir Nokov in hot pursuit. Hopefully, he’d catch the brat, but in the mean time Dimitri and Sasha would teach the girl a lesson.

Dimitri felt no sympathy after that first swing, no more than the girl showed any fear, looking up at him with hate in her eyes as Sasha held her arms behind her back. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth, from the split lip and broken tooth. Dimitri thought only that he hadn’t taken the right tactic, and maybe starting with the head wasn’t the best way to change her attitude.

The second blow, therefore, went to the gut instead. Sasha took a half step back from the force of Dimitri’s punch, and the girl had the wind knocked out of her. No more glare of defiance, eh? But that was hardly the end.

“Good one!” Sasha called, his slight inebriation no doubt lending to his enthusiasm. Dimitri did not approve of drinking on the job himself, but his partner could not be persuaded that some things were best experienced entirely sober.

Dimitri struck the girl in the gut again as she began to catch her breath, leaving her with only wracking coughs to her name, whatever it was. When those passed, she looked up again. Now she was afraid of him. That was better.

“You made a very big mistake.” Dimitri said, and struck her across the face with the back of his hand. Her head jerked violently to the side, and the ridge of his gauntlet gouged scratches into the side of her face.

“Did you think we wouldn’t come after you?” he demanded, and struck the other side of her face in the same manner. “Did you think we wouldn’t catch you?” and he struck her again, at jaw level, jamming her cheek into her broken teeth. She gasped, and spat up bloody red spit onto Dimitri’s boots.

That, he thought, was another insult, and it would have to be redressed. He kicked her in one shin first, then the other, and her legs came out from under her, Sasha bending over to keep his grip as she fell slowly to her knees.

“Be a good girl, now, and beg.” Dimitri demanded. It wouldn’t change her fate, but he wanted to see it. He wanted to know the criminal repented.

She stared up at him with that same rage, that same defiance, and Dimitri struck her again, breaking her nose. He kicked her in the chest, then began to rain more blows down on her head and shoulders as Sasha cheered him on.

He stopped when Vladimir came back, out of breath and empty handed. So, the third hooligan had escaped? Well, it was no matter. Dimitri gave the supine form of the girl one last, halfhearted kick, more of a push with his foot, turning her face-down to the street. She had been dead for the last round or two of blows, but Sasha had wanted to see just how much damage Dimitri could do.

The three of them cleared out of the alley to continue their patrol. The Golgari, no doubt, would be by soon enough to deal with the two corpses.

***

Leon Nirstoy sat at the bar of his older brother’s tavern. Mikhail was a good man, if a man without vision, and so the dingy hole-in-the-wall that was his business and his home was a good place, made mirthful by him, his wife, and his children. They were living a good life, Leon reflected, despite it all.

Leon, for his part, was not a good man, and he had little interest in pursuing the good life himself. Both he and Mikhail knew Leon to be the cleverer of the pair from the follies of youth and the refinement they had kept in their speech, but sometimes Leon was not so sure of that old wisdom. Yet when he doubted at the sound of children, or Petra’s kind smiles reserved only for Mikhail, he remembered that he was very sure of one thing: the guilds needed to be destroyed.

Leon was with the Gateless, at least as much as anyone could be. The movement was not exactly organized, nor was it exactly a revolution. You named yourself Gateless, fashioned some badge for others to note you by, and started to work against oppression from above. Mostly, they just put on masks and went around defacing guild symbols, harmless and useless acts of vandalism to express their impotent anger. Not long past, a large group of Gateless had tried to crowd an Orzhov church, filling its space day and night without paying more than the doorman the one time for entrance. As Leon heard it, their nonviolent protest had ended when the thrulls started eating people and the vast bulk scattered.

Leon dreamed of more than that. The people of Ravnica were angry, and the more the guilds tried to beat the anger out of them, the angrier they became. Sooner or later there would be enough of them angry enough to realize that they outnumbered the guild members a hundred to one. Then, nothing would stop the revolution.

For now, Leon tried to convince people to prepare, quietly, for that day, to be ready for when the guilds gave an unforgivable offense, and the streets rose up. Some would not listen from the start, some would discourage further talk after a point, and some would take up the cause of the Gateless for their own. From that last group, Leon knew dozens who were ready to fight, and even starting the usual activities. All there needed to be was a spark, something to make the people like Mikhail stand up and say with one voice, “no more.”

It was getting somewhat late, and the children were still out playing. Leon loved them, but sometimes he worried he was spending too much time around them. The Gateless weren’t well liked and their habits weren’t good habits to get into if you weren’t ready. Leon had talked to Mikhail about it, for once warning someone away from the movement and asking if he wanted Leon to stop showing up at the tavern. But Mikhail had laughed and said they would be soon enough making their own choices. For tonight, that choice was to be home within the hour if they expected any dinner.

It was then that Leon’s nephew, twelve years old and named in his uncle’s honor, barreled in through the door, shouting for his mother and father.

The boy was sweating, panting from exertion, and terrified, His wide, wild eyes darted through the room as his parents came to him.

“What is it?” his mother asked, “And where is Natasha?”

“It’s the hardheads!” Leon-the-younger finally managed to stammer, having no doubt picked up that term from one of Uncle Leon’s near sermons on the matter, “The… the Boros. Ivan did it, he threw the rock! I didn’t do anything, I just ran as fast as I could!”

And soon enough, between his parents and his uncle asking questions, the whole story was told by the boy. How he had been playing with his big sister and their friend in the street, how Ivan had seen the Boros battalion and chucked a stone at their heads, strick his mark, and been struck down in return. Young Leon told how he’d turned and run, and thought that Natasha was right behind him. But, when he had gotten clear of pursuit, she had been nowhere in sight.

At once, the elder Leon and his brother both insisted the boy lead them to where it had happened, and no few patrons stepped up to come along. Most, Leon recognized, either good friends or namers to the Gateless. Numbering a dozen, they followed the twists and turns of the street, and found that damnable alley.

The Golgari had not found the place yet, but the Boros were long gone. All that was left were the bodies, the burned corpse of Ivan, and the mangled, battered form of Natasha Nirstoya, a wreck in a pool of her own blood.

Leon fumed inside. He raged at himself for letting this happen, but more than that, his rage burned at the Boros. They had not killed Natasha on accident, or through over-reaction, the way someone might almost excuse Ivan’s death. They had killed her with purpose, with malice, with so many wounds that the crowd could not number them.

She had been fourteen years old.

Then someone, not even one of the Gateless, shouted.

“Damn them!” he yelled, “We should burn their garrison to the ground!”

And the crowd cheered.

“Get the others!” one of the Gateless yelled, “Get everyone up to see what the Boros have done!”

And they cheered again, and Leon Nirstoy was sick at heart. Here was his spark, but at what a horrible price.

***

Dimitri Peshkov stood at attention in his commander’s office.

“Three nights,” his commander said, “Three nights the riots in your district have continued, even grown. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Sir.” Dimitri said, “I do not have enough men to put the riots down. We are less than ten, the mob swarms the streets.”

“Ten soldiers of the Boros Legion!” his commander declared, “Against any number of these Gateless rabble, it should be an easy fight.”

“If they fought fairly,” Dimitri said, “It would be.”

“Oh?” asked his commander, “What is it, then, that stifles you?”

“Sir,” Dimitri said, remembering the harrowing events of the previous night, the fire, the madness, the foes striking from the alleyways and melting back into them all the same, “The rioters are organized, following the lead of a man those we captured name Leon Nirstoy. They do not simply swarm forward, they skulk through the shadows like Dimir, slip in and out of the undercity, bar our own gates against us. I need more men to flush them out of their holes.”

Dimitri’s commander seemed to think about it. He was an old hand at the Legion’s ways, and Dimitri knew he had handled more than one foolhardy riot. But had he faced anything like this? Dimitri suspected this was new, but also that they would be more than capable of controlling the madness… after a certain amount of cost.

Dimitri’s commander also knew about the girl, and how that had started the whole mess. But for that, he had just given Dimitri a stern warning to do things cleanly next time, and not listen to Sasha’s goads. A summary execution was one thing, but it had to leave a nice-looking body if anyone found it before the Golgari.

“Well,” the commander said, “I’ll get into contact up the line. The last interrogation records of a few of these gateless are very troubling, and their ranks seem to swell each night. Tonight, we’ll have something for you better than just more men, but you’d better clean the streets one way or another. If you don’t manage, you can kiss your rank goodbye.”

“Yes, sir!”

***

It was the fourth night since the riots started, and Leon Nirstoy was still sick. Guild edifices were burning, but without the civics of the guilds the water was stagnant, the food was running short, the fires spread to the homes of the Gateless, and the bodies were piling up. Far, far too many bodies.

On the first night, after Natasha’s murder, they had taken the Guilds by surprise. They had done damage, and they had reveled in the vengeance of their victory. But their revenge had been sporadic, undirected, and left the real culprits at large. The second night, they had gone after the Boros, but then they met resistance.

The deaths the Boros caused weren’t enough to disperse the mob. As Leon had always said, more oppression only made the enraged more wrathful, and in the minds of the crowd, the demise of their fellows only grew the blood price that had to be extracted from the guilds. On the third night, they had dragged a Boros soldier down and cut his throat, but it was still nowhere near enough, not when they had lost a dozen of their own by the time the night was over.

A dozen to one… the Gateless could win by those odds, but after so much death, what would the plagues take? The starvation? Before Natasha, Leon had been focused utterly on starting and winning the war. Now that the war was upon him, Leon wanted to win the peace, and found only frustrated depression to be his companion. The Gateless could not live under the thumb of the guilds as they were, but could they live without them?

They had to. People were strong. They would find a way.

That was how the fourth night began.

Leon, it seemed, was the one the Gateless new and old respected most. He was their leader, the nerve center of their attack against the Boros and the other oppressors. He sat still in his brother’s tavern, though his brother was out fighting, and all the chairs and tables rearranged to make of it a command post. The youngest of the Gateless ran messages from there to the troops in the streets and back again, coordinating orders and trying to spare Leon’s people any further casualties. His little nephew stayed by his side, for his father said he could stand to learn from the smarter of the brothers.

It was not long after dark when the first report of disaster came.

On the second and the third night, there had been maybe a dozen Boros troopers in the district. Now there were panicked messages on what to do with thirty here, and twenty there, but that was not the disaster. The Gateless still had numbers. But what did they have for the angels?

The Firemane, Aurelia’s own, had come down upon them, and if the fires the Gateless set burned hot, they were nothing before the will of the angels engulfing their petty fastness. The first mention of the sight of them had come from Josef’s brigade. The next came from Mikhail, and the third in silence, for the messenger boy sent to return instructions to Mikhail came back all too soon, and said the streets that way were all alight.

Leon stepped out of the tavern, and he saw the glow from every quarter. It was too much, too soon! The Gateless were still few, and weak next to what they could be! They needed more time!

Yet the sky was full of wings, and the street! Down the street came the funder of hoofbeats. There had been no other messengers, but the barricades had fallen all the same.

Leon ducked into the Tavern.

“Run!” he yelled to his nephew, who was holding the ad hoc Gateless banner his mother had made, “Drop that thing and get far away!”

But the boy shook his head, and held the flag staff closer.

“These are the ones who killed your sister,” Leon said, “And they will not spare you. But they must catch you first, so run now!”

The younger Leon stamped the end of the flag staff to the ground. “I won’t run! I’ll fight! I’ll-“

The Boros soldier, district captain’s badge of office on his breastplate, kicked in the door. Uncle and nephew turned to face the scene, but the child was too close, and carrying the flag. The soldier strode forward, with two great steps, and cut the boy down even as he drew his sword.

“Murderer!” Leon shouted. He grasped for his knife. It wasn’t much, a carving knife from the kitchen, but at least he could try… try one last time to win, to at least revenge himself upon this butcher.

“You must be Nirstoy.” Officer Dimitri declared, “My lucky night.”

Leon Nirstoy pounced, slashing at Dimitri’s side, but his blade glanced off the man’s armor, and he received a quick kick for his trouble, knocking him to the ground.

“You dogs killed my niece!” Leon shouted as he fought to right himself from prone, “You have killed my brother, and now you murder the rest of my family!”

“One thing you need to know,” Dimitri said, then rushed forward, checking Leon with his shoulder as Leon stood, throwing him back into the bar where he clutched in vain at its edge. Dimitri stalked forward, and grabbed Leon by the front of his shirt.

“When I kill a man, it is not murder like your scum killing Vladimir,” he said. “This,” and he plunged his blade into Leon’s gut, “Is an execution.”

Leon slumped to the ground, blood pooling around him.

“You…” he said, “Some day you will be brought low. You can’t kill us all.”

“We’ll see about that.” Dimitri said as more Boros began to enter the tavern.

***

“Five arrests,” Dimitri’s commander recounted, “One hundred fifty three confirmed dead of the enemy, near double that missing and likely beneath the rubble, and all heads of the Gateless operation accounted for on pikes.”

Dimitri waited for his commander’s assessment for a moment, and then gave a puzzled “Yes, sir.”

“And,” his commander said, “Not one Boros soldier killed or seriously wounded in the action on that night. Well done, I must say, well done.”

Dimitri beamed. He had dreaded at first having so many resources put at his disposal, but at the same time, it was his chance to show his true quality, and he had thought he had done well.

“Keep up the good work,” his commander said, “And you’ll have my chair some day.”




Because I'm apparently in a writing things mood, we have this and... wow, looking back at what I've done it's a little abnormal for portraying the Boros, isn't it? They're normally more... good guy. Well, I suppose there's Knight Watch (very much an inspiration here), Arrows of Justice (presumably lethal responses to minor crimes), and to a lesser extent Angelic Edict and Hold the Gates (which also loosely inspired this) that treat them as heels. It's a bit of a spiritual successor to Debt, I guess. Part of me is tempted to launch into... something of a cycle, but I wouldn't really get the same pitch black stuff out of all ten (The Dimir, Gruul, and Izzet would be very hard to get on the same level for various reasons and Azorius and Selesnya present some challenges, if I were trying to force it) so they won't all be like this even should I actually manage a story for every guild.

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Last edited by Tevish Szat on Tue Mar 31, 2015 7:37 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 30, 2015 2:50 pm 
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Well, this is a depressing little story... :)

Spoiler


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 30, 2015 4:11 pm 
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Thanks for reading :)

The typos should now be fixed. I think I even found the paragraph without the end period.

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I have a blog. I review anime, and sometimes related media, with an analytical focus.

I'm a (self) published author now! You can find my first book, The Accursed, on Amazon as an ebook or a paperback!


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 30, 2015 4:59 pm 
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Is there a Saddler and a Big Cheese in the Dimir and Gruul? :V Enjoyed the story. :)

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 31, 2015 4:12 pm 
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Thanks a ton for sharing this one, Tevish!

Somehow, given the subject matter, saying that I "enjoyed" reading it seems a little odd? So let's go with: I think it's really great, and I'm very glad to have read it.

A few quick thoughts spoiler-blocked below.

More generally, though, it seems like you're drawn to Ravnica as a setting. Provided that's actually the case, and that I'm not just seeing a pattern which isn't there -- which has definitely been known to happen -- I'd be interested in hearing your thought about what it is about Ravnica which you find most interesting, and which makes you want to explore that plane.

Thoughts and ramblings


Also, I have not forgotten about "The Ring," and I am really looking forward to reading that next.

Thanks again, Tevish!

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 31, 2015 7:30 pm 
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@Orcish

On Ravnica
[/sblock]
On the Story

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