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PostPosted: Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:57 am 
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All the Worlds on Stage
by RavenoftheBlack and Barinellos
Status: Public :diamond:
Word Count: 6,603


“I can’t leave you!” Tawnos shouted, his face expressive and pleading.


“You must,” the other man answered with a far off look in his eye. “This has always been about he and I. I see that now. And it is between he and I that this must end.”


“But Urza…”


“Do not argue!” Urza shouted, cradling the ancient bowl in his hands. “Save yourself, Tawnos. This ends here!”


"Urza, there's still time to save yourself. Think of Kayla! What will she do without you?"


"Kayla..." Urza faltered and then hung his head. "Kayla deserves better. She always has. If you should see her again, ask her not to remember me as I was..." Urza looked up once more, certainty glinting in his eyes, "but as I tried to be. Go now, Tawnos!"


Tawnos stared, his mouth wide open, his eyes sad. He shook his head as if unable to grasp what he was being told. But finally he obeyed, as he knew he must. He took three slow steps backwards, then turned and ran from Urza, disappearing behind the green curtain of the forest. The crowd seemed to take a collective breath. They had been watching, entranced, as Tawnos had given Urza the Golgothian Sylex while still imploring him not to use it. To hand it over was his duty to Urza, to plead against its use was his responsibility to the world. But Urza hadn’t listened. He couldn’t. And now, Tawnos was gone.


The world held its breath as Urza marched toward his brother.


In the crowd, Jonus Triton blinked several times to clear his eyes. He had been so lost in the play that he had almost forgotten he was watching one. By the limited light of the moon above the open theatre, Jonus looked down at the playbill in his hand. On the front of the pamphlet, in bold and brazen typography, were the words: “The Brothers’ War.” Just below, in more swooping and ostentatious letters, read: “Original Story Written and Conceived by Antony LaMount.” Jonus opened the playbill and noticed the same name next to the word “Tawnos.” He nodded to himself.


Suddenly, the entire theatre was awash with a flash of light from the stage. Jonus looked up quickly, just in time to be blinded by the light from the Sylex. The entire audience was forced to turn away from it, and when they had recovered enough to look back, all they saw was an empty stage. The actor playing Urza was gone, and so were the few trees that had been used to signify the victimized forests of Argoth. The entire set had collapsed in on itself, such was the destruction of the blast, leaving only ash drifting down from the scaffolding above. The crowd stared at the empty, wrecked stage for a long time as silence filled the theatre.


The crowd stared, stunned, for several long seconds before erupting into a spontaneous round of deafening applause. They applauded for some time, and when the noise finally started to die down, Urza stepped back out from stage right to take his bows, and the crowd grew loud again. When this round of applause started to quiet, Mishra re-emerged from stage left to join his brother, who just moments before had been trying to destroy one another, in the adulation of the crowd. A few moments later, Tawnos and Ashnod joined them, one from each direction. The crowd exploded as Antony LaMount bowed. From his seat near the center of the crowd, Jonus Triton watched him with curiosity in his eyes.


It was almost an hour later when Jonus was finally standing in front of Antony LaMount’s dressing room door. It had taken a little mental trickery to get back there alone, but Jonus was not entirely talentless in such things, and had eventually managed it. Trying to decide what to say, he knocked loudly on the door with the end of his long, twisting, crystal topped staff, and the voice behind the door answered immediately.


“Who’s there?”


“I'd like to speak with you about your play,” Jonus answered.


There was a long pause. Jonus was about to knock a second time when the door opened to reveal the playwright. He was a smaller man than Jonus had expected, both a bit shorter and significantly thinner than he had appeared on stage. His dark hair was wild, but his thin mustache, by comparison, was meticulously trimmed. His eyes were a strange bluish-amber, and they looked Jonus up and down slowly like a connoisseur scanning some newly acquired commodity.


“I’m sorry,” the playwright said, “but fans are not allowed back here. If you want an autograph, it will have to wait until a more appropriate time.”


“Are you Antony LaMount?” Jonus asked quickly.


Something flashed across the other man’s eyes, but he quickly hid it. “That’s ‘LaMount.’ The ‘T’ is silent. And yes, of course I am one and the same. I find it difficult to accept that you wouldn’t know that.”


Without another word, Antony closed the door on the other man’s face. Undeterred, Jonus spoke through the door. “I apologize, but I’m from far away from here.”


There was silence, and Jonus waited patiently. After a long moment, the door opened again, and the look on the playwright’s face had changed slightly. Antony looked upward at the taller man as he spoke, being sure to hold his gaze. “My plays are performed on every continent on Gintrue, and in virtually every season. There are none who travel in the proper circles who do not know Antony LaMount.”


Jonus shrugged and leaned against his staff. “That may be, but where I come from is very far away. I doubt very much your plays run there.”


LaMount stared at his visitor again for some time, before turning away from him, leaving the door open. Jonus took this as an invitation, and stepped into the dressing room. It was a large room, lavishly decorated, with numerous strange baubles lining the walls. Opposite the door was a large vanity with three mirrors, two of them angled to allow anyone seated there to see themselves from the sides as well as the front. Jonus looked around at the fascinating collection while Antony LaMount poured himself a drink and moved to close the door.


“So,” LaMount said, trying to straighten his shirt and failing. “You wanted to speak to me about my play. I trust you enjoyed it?”


“I did,” Jonus said. “An excellent performance all around.”


Antony scoffed slightly. “Mishra nearly missed his cue at the beginning of the second act, and Urza was a step off his blocking in the final scene. He nearly upstaged me.”


Jonus shrugged. “Well, you know more about that sort of thing than I do. But I certainly enjoyed it.”


“Thank you,” LaMount said after a bit too long of a pause.


Jonus pulled the playbill out of an interior pocket and glanced at it for a moment. “I understand you wrote the story yourself?”


“Of course,” Antony snapped, then took a long sip of his drink. “I write all of the plays I appear in. I wouldn’t sully myself by taking a role from a lesser playwright.”


“Truly, you have incredible talent. Your settings, especially, felt so alive to me. The island, what did you call it again? Argoth? On all of Gintrue, I have never heard of such a place.”


“Argoth is…” LaMount began. “…fictional.”


“Oh?” Jonus said, raising his eyebrows. “Funny, it felt so real.”


Antony winced, and returned to his fruitless attempts to straighten his shirt. “Well, naturally, a truly talented wordsmith crafts his settings carefully.”


“Naturally,” Jonus agreed. “Terisiare, too. A wonderful job with both, I must say.”


Antony turned away and walked back over to his liquor cabinet, where he refilled his glass with a pale green liquid before taking another sip. “I appreciate your compliments, Mr…”


“Oh, I’m sorry! Triton. Call me Jonus, though. At your service.” Jonus awkwardly shifted the playbill over to his other hand, where he was holding the staff, and held out his free hand to the other man, but the playwright did not move to accept it.


“Mr. Triton, then. As I said, I appreciate your compliments, but do you have some sort of a point? I am quite tired after my performance, and I am expecting a visitor soon…”


“I don’t mean to take up too much of your time,” Jonus said apologetically. “I merely wanted to say that I think you did a wonderful job bringing Argoth to life.”


“Thank you.”


“And Terisiare, as well.”


“You mentioned that…”


“And, of course, Dominaria as a whole.”


Antony LaMount froze. “What is ‘Dominaria?’”


Jonus smiled. “Why, it’s your setting, of course! Isn’t that where you said Terisiare is in your play?”


Antony’s eyes narrowed. “I’m quite certain that word never appears in my work. You are certainly mistaken.”


“Am I?” Jonus said. “I could have sworn I have heard ‘Dominaria’ somewhere in relation to ‘Terisiare.’ Strange, isn’t it?”


“Extremely,” Antony agreed, reaching for the door handle. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”


“It’s funny,” Jonus continued, making Antony stop. “Those names in the play seemed very familiar, too. You know, Urza and Mishra. Very familiar. Of course, nobody on Gintrue has such odd names, do they?”


“No,” LaMount admitted. “I invented them, uh, because I felt they invoked a certain sense of, well, it’s difficult to explain, of course.”


“Of course,” Jonus said, then sighed. “You know, you don’t need to be an actor all the time.”


Antony LaMount straightened his back. “I’m sure I have no idea what you mean.”


Jonus Triton shook his head. “I’ve been around too, Mr. LaMount. There’s a lot to see out there, and a lot of stories to tell.”


“That may well be,” Antony said, “but it has nothing to do with me. I am a playwright. A wordsmith. I take the inspiration of the muses and transform it into something that everyone can appreciate.”


“Inspiration,” Jonus mused, nodding his head. “Yes, I like that! Inspiration! But again, there is a lot of inspiration out there, and it certainly couldn’t hurt to know a man who knows your muses, now would it?”


“I don’t…” Antony was interrupted by another knock at his door. The playwright hung his head. “Look, I need to…deal with this. Will you come back later tonight? We can discuss this…” Another knock sounded from the door, a bit louder this time. “This theory of yours, alright?”


Jonus shrugged. “Of course. In about three hours?”


Antony LaMount glanced at his glass. He wondered if he would still be conscious then. A third, even more insistent knock at the door made him doubt it. “Yes, yes, that’s fine.”


LaMount opened his door to reveal a woman about his age waiting behind it, a mildly annoyed expression on her face. “You do love to make me wait, don’t you, Antony. I…Oh!” She stopped as she noticed Jonus moving toward her.


Jonus nodded in her direction. “I’m sorry ma'am,” he said. “My fault.” He squeezed past the woman and walked slowly down the hall toward the exit.


The woman looked back toward the playwright. “Friend of yours?”


Antony drained the rest of his drink. “Just a fan,” he said, turning away from her. “I have a lot of them in this city, you know. And a lot of other cities, too.”


“I’m sure you do,” she said. Antony flinched.


He glared at her reflection in his vanity mirror. “Look, I got your note. What is it that you want, anyway?”


“Believe it or not, Antony, I came here to congratulate you. The Brothers’ War is an amazing work. You did beautifully with it.”


“It’s the talk of the city, you know,” Antony smirked. “Everyone, everyone, is talking about it. People can’t get enough.”


The woman bit her lip, but eventually nodded. “It’s true. I have even had some of my clients mention it.”


Antony shot her a hard look. “And that surprises you?”


“No,” she said, a tinge of annoyance momentarily in her voice. “I just meant that everyone is talking about it, like you said.”


Antony nodded, then turned back toward his liquor cabinet. “Would you like a drink, Deborah?”


“You’re not still drinking that absinthe, are you?” She spoke with a slight laugh in her tone, as if trying to make it a joke.


Antony did not take it that way. “And why not? It’s the preferred drink of the courts, you know. I’m told the count himself has it specially shipped directly to him.”


“I hadn’t heard that.”


“Well, perhaps I’ll ask him myself. He’s asked for a special exhibition next week. I’m to be the guest of honor, of course.”


“You must be very proud, Antony.”


“And why shouldn’t I be? You know how rare it is to be invited to the count’s galas. How often have you been there, Deborah?”


“Never,” she admitted. “Although the countess wore three of my gowns last season.”


“I noticed. One to my premier of last season’s production.”


“I missed that one,” Deborah said. “My designs were on tour in Hagarty, if you remember.”


“Hagarty?” Antony laughed. “You ask if I know Hagarty? I sold out the Magnifique there, you know. Have you ever seen that theatre, Deborah? It’s massive! And I sold it out!”


“You’ve done very well, Antony. You’ve come so very far, really.”


Antony shot her another look. “Meaning what?”


“Meaning,” Deborah shot back, then stopped herself. “Meaning it takes a lot to get where you are, and that’s wonderful.”


Antony paused, then turned away from her again. “So, did you see The Brothers’ War tonight?”


The woman nodded, although Antony was too absorbed in his glass to notice. “Of course. I did say it was an amazing work, didn’t I?”


“You did,” the playwright admitted, “but you could have heard that from anyone. Enough people are saying it, of course.”


“Yes, well, I’m the one who said it this time, Antony.”


“Good, good. What was your favorite part?”


Deborah thought for a moment. “I really liked Ashnod. She was probably my favorite. I think you and she played against each other well. And the woman who played her was fantastic.”


Antony scoffed. “Lily is alright. She hams it up a bit too much for my liking, but she’s a solid performer. She always hits her blocking, at least. I just wish she would be consistent in her timing for once in her life.”


Deborah laughed. “Oh, come on, Antony! Let the actors act! Isn’t it enough that you give them the words?”


“I’m out there on the stage, too, you know.”


“I know,” she said, “but for how long? You only act in your works for the first week or so before you pass off the part.”


“I have important work to do,” Antony challenged. “I have to get ready for my next triumph.”


“So let the people who will be doing it do it,” she said. “Pretty soon, there will be a new Tawnos for Ashnod to interact with. Let her find her own timing with a real actor.”


Finally, Antony spun back around to face her. “A real actor? Meaning I’m not a ‘real actor,’ is that it? You think I died out there? That’s not what the applause said.”


“No, Antony, I think you did a perfectly suitable job. Wonderful, even.”


“But?”


“What do you mean?”


“Oh, come on, Deborah. It’s always the same game with you. You design your compliments the same way you design your gowns. You want them looking pretty on the outside, but you always manage to leave a pin or two beneath the surface.”


“That’s a weak metaphor, Antony, even by your standards. Besides, as I remember, it was always you who tried to stick your little barbs in whenever you could.”


“Remember it how you want,” Antony said with a wave of his hand. He tried to take a drink from his empty glass.


“I remember it as it was,” Deborah insisted. “You always tried to turn everything I said into some sort of insult, even when there wasn’t one there.”


“Which was a rarity, as I recall.”


“There you go again,” the woman said, throwing up her hands. “I don’t know why I bother speaking in the first place. You never hear what I actually say anyway.”


“Maybe if you would have said what you really meant, we wouldn’t have had that problem.”


“I really don’t want to have this conversation again, Antony.”


“I bet you never thought this day would come, did you?”


Deborah sighed. “Meaning what?”


“You know what I mean. You never believed in my plays, did you? I bet you never imagined congratulating me on a smash hit. Let alone another in a string of smash hits! And that just eats you up, doesn’t it?”


“Never imagined?” Deborah said, indignant. “That’s all I could ever do! Night after night, Antony, when you were wearing a trench in the garden pacing, all I could do was imagine a time when you had made it, because you certainly never did anything back then to deserve it.”


“And what about you?” LaMount shot back. “Before we got married, all you ever talked about was designing gowns! ‘Someday, half the city will be wearing Deborah LaMount,’ isn’t that what you said? Well, I don’t remember that happening. All I remember is the money we spent on material.”


“Most of which you insisted I use for the costumes for the worst kitsch the city of Daris has ever seen! And by the way, half of the women in your audience tonight were wearing Deborah Regaan!”


“I’ll have to tell the doormen to start enforcing a dress code!”


“If you did, then they would all be wearing my gowns!”


“Maybe if you had shown this kind of passion when we were married, then Two Tragic Lovers would have been the success it was meant to be.”


“My costumes were the only part of that play that didn’t make the critics want to march you through the streets in a pillory.”


LaMount moved back to the liquor cabinet. As he poured himself another glass, he looked over his shoulder at Deborah. “That play had more depth and substance than you ever did.”


“That play didn’t have anything of either.”


He turned completely away from her. “Which says a hell of a lot about you, doesn’t it?”


“Dammit, Antony, why do you always do this?” She paused, taking a deep breath. “I didn’t come here for this.”


“Yeah? Then why did you come?”


“I told you. I wanted to congratulate you.”


Antony scoffed. “I don’t believe a word of it.” He turned around to face her again. “You were never a very good actress, and I’m not buying your lines.”


Deborah shook her head and moved to place one gloved hand on the door handle. “You’re impossible, Antony. Tell me something. Which one eats you up more? The fact that I made it before you did, or the fact that it took me leaving you for me to make it?”


“What eats me up most is that the people who wear your designs will never know the real woman whose hands made their gowns.”


Deborah laughed once. “Whereas I am thankful that people can enjoy your work without having to know the mind that crafted them.”


“Get out of here, Deborah. We both know that leaving is what you’re best at.”


Deborah shook her head, opened the door, and started to step through, then stopped. She lowered her head slightly. “Congratulations, Antony. I know you’ll find some way to twist these words, too, but despite everything, I am happy for you.”


Without waiting for a response, Deborah stepped through the door and slammed it behind her. Antony stared after her for a long time. Eventually, he realized that there were tears running down his cheeks. He moved over to his vanity then and looked at his face in the mirrors. As he stared back at himself, he wondered how he always managed to do that. Every time he saw Deborah, he managed to drive her further away, despite wanting to draw her closer than ever. Years ago, he had loved her dearly, and he couldn’t deny that he still did, but things had changed too much between them, and now, it all seemed to go wrong whenever they were in the same room.


They had been happy together once, he supposed, although it wasn’t particularly easy to remember that time through the haze of more recent memories. And although he was the wordsmith, she always seemed to know the right ones to cut him. ‘Kitsch,’ she had called it, and by extension, him. Could there be a more insulting term for what he had created? Could she, or his early critics, have possibly wounded him more?


Antony reflected on the question bitterly as he stared at his reflection in the vanity. He knew the answer perfectly well. Of course they could have. They could have, because they had. He remembered those long nights just as well as Deborah did, pacing in their small garden while he waited, knowing that somewhere, in darkened corners of the city, sniveling, talentless critics were writing reviews of works he had poured his soul into. And after days had gone by, days where he could barely eat or sleep for the waiting, he had seen those reviews spread like an unchecked fire over thatched roofs.


“Unoriginal,” Antony LaMount said aloud, his mouth tasting the venom in the word. “Unimaginative.” The playwright snarled. “Uncreative.”


He slammed his glass down on the vanity, spilling much of the alcohol in the process. He hated those words. He hated his past critics for uttering them. He hated himself for eliciting them. He hated Deborah for reminding him of them. He had poured all of himself into those early plays. Didn’t each of them have amazing, poignant, and true-to-life dialog? Didn’t they speak to the inner realities of the common man? Didn’t they develop their characters in fascinating and eye-opening ways? Didn’t those things matter to anyone?


But all anyone could talk about was the same old plot. All he had heard was ‘just like some other play,’ and ‘we’ve heard this all before,’ and ‘didn’t I see this play last season?’ His first play had barely made a profit. His second and third suffered small losses in their runs. His fourth was a disaster. His fifth couldn’t even find a venue in the city proper. He had had to settle for a converted tavern on the outskirts whose owner was desperate for an autumn play. Even the half-drunken patrons who could never have afforded a night at a true theatre had vocalized their disapproval so loudly that the play had only run a single night.


Antony looked down at his glass and frowned. Being considered unoriginal was a devastating setback for a new playwright. But it could be career, even life-destroying, for an established one.


Which brought Antony’s mind back to his mysterious visitor, Jonus Triton. As distasteful as it was to receive a visit from his ex-wife, Antony had bigger things to worry about with the tall stranger. Ever since Antony had first stepped into the wings of reality and found himself on other planes of existence, he had found a new inspiration, and the plays he had created since were the talk of all of Gintrue. He had told so many stories that those of his home plane had never imagined, and his newest, The Brothers’ War, was to be his greatest success. Most critics on the plane had come around, of course, and admitted that his plays were the greatest, most imaginative creations to have ever graced the stage, and The Brothers’ War was to convince the last of them.


But not if they learned Antony LaMount’s secret. Not if they learned that every one of those stories belonged to someone else.


Antony buried his face in his hands. He had met other planeswalkers in his travels, but he had never heard of one coming to Gintrue. He had never truly considered the possibility. What could the odds have possibly been? How likely was it that a ‘walker would show up on Gintrue to begin with? And even if they did, what were the chances they would see one of his plays and know the story? Again, Antony thought back on his early plays, and on Deborah and everything that had happened between them. As he drained the rest of his glass, he reflected on just how unlucky he was capable of being.


Antony had no idea when he fell asleep, but he woke up to the sound of a knock on the door. Begrudgingly, he forced himself to stand up. He took a moment to look over his reflection in the vanity mirror. He looked terrible. All he was thinking as he moved toward the door was that he was inviting in his own destruction. With a heavy sigh, he opened the door and found, to no surprise, the smiling face of Jonus Triton waiting for him.


“I trust I am not late,” the taller planeswalker said.


Although any number of potential responses crossed the playwright’s mind, his honed actor’s instincts kicked in immediately. Antony gave his most convincing smile and spoke enthusiastically as he replied. “No, not at all! Come on in, please. Would you care for a drink, my friend?”


Jonus seemed surprised, but his smile widened in response. “I would, yes. Thank you. You seem in better spirits than earlier this evening.”


Antony nodded as he closed the dressing room door and then moved back over to the liquor cabinet. He held up the bottle of green liquid. “Spirits will do that! Tell me, Jonus, have you ever had absinthe before?”


“Absinthe?” The other man repeated. “I can’t say that I have.”


“Oh? Well, then, you are in for a treat. It's bottled by the fae of Artem Woods, you know. It must be specially prepared and is simply the height of haute culture.” He poured a glass and followed it with a cube of sugar and water from the sweating decanter by the table. It all seemed very impressive as Jonus took the glass graciously. The planeswalker raised it to his lips, then paused for a moment, as if thinking about something.


“None for you?”


Antony shook his head. “I have already had…well, I was going to say ‘enough,’ but I suspect ‘far too much’ is more accurate.”


Jonus stared at him for a moment, as if trying to read something in his eyes, but eventually smiled and took a sip. Triton’s face lit up as he did. “This stuff is strong!”


Antony nodded. “But delicious, don’t you think?”


Jonus took another sip. “I can’t argue with you there.”


Antony smiled. “Now, regarding earlier, I must apologize. I fear I was a bit churlish, but you must understand. Not only did you surprise me, but you had the misfortune of visiting me shortly before my ex-wife was scheduled to arrive. Not my best of moods, you understand.”


“Of course,” Jonus said, taking another sip. “And I fear I may have given you the wrong idea. I was just so fascinated. I have never before met a planeswalker who took the histories of other planes back home again.”


Antony shrugged. “A good story is a good story. I hope to bring entertainment to the people, and these are truly some entertaining stories.”


“Well, if your troupe’s performance from this evening was any indication, people must find them entertaining indeed.”


“As I told you earlier, I am well-known here. My name carries a great deal of weight in the theatrical world, and the theatre carries a great deal of weight on Gintrue.”


“I have heard,” Jonus said. “As I had some time to kill, I did ask around about you. They tell me you are considered one of, if not the, greatest playwrights.”


“Indeed I am,” Antony agreed proudly.


Jonus nodded. “Were you born here?”


“I was,” LaMount said.


“I thought as much,” Jonus said, finishing his glass of absinthe. “I had heard from some that in your younger days, you were, how do I put this gently? Not as respected as you are now?”


Antony frowned, but nodded. “We all must build our reputations. Another glass?”


Jonus looked down at his hand and shrugged. “Sure. Thanks.”


Antony took the glass from his guest and returned to the cabinet, opening it and rummaging around a bit. “I actually have a better bottle here. It was made, I’m told, from the bloom of the wormwood dryad. I haven’t opened it yet. Saving it for a special occasion. Would you like to try it?”


“Oh, I wouldn’t want to deprive you.”


Antony seemed to consider. “Well, I may regret it in the morning, but I believe one more glass may well be in order.”


“I suppose if you are going to share it, I would be ungracious not to join you.” Jonus smiled slyly as he spoke.


Antony laughed as he pulled out a new bottle and a new glass, before preparing both glasses and returning Jonus’s to him. Without waiting for his guest, Antony lifted his own glass to his lips and sipped the green liquid. The taste was, as he had been promised, exquisite. Jonus followed his host’s example, although he drained nearly half his glass. Antony smiled at him.


“I admit, I have not met many other planeswalkers. One or two, on various worlds. Enough to learn what it means. But tell me, what do you do, Jonus?”


“Me? This and that. Mostly, I deal in favors. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my time, it’s that favors are the only commodity worth dealing in, when everything is said and done.”


“I see. Is that what brought you to Gintrue?”


“Not really,” Jonus said. “Actually, I heard about the poles of this plane.”


“The poles?” Antony asked, confused. “Nobody goes there. Nobody lives there. From what I understand, it’s frigid beyond belief, at either one. What in nine hells could you want there?”


Jonus drained the remainder of his glass. “Let’s just say that I owe somebody a favor, and we’ll leave it at that.”


“Then why, if you don’t mind me asking, were you at the performance tonight, rather than on your way to one of the poles?”


“The person to whom I owe this favor is, well, patient. And, since I’m never really in a hurry, I thought I would catch a show. I like to talk to people when I come to a new plane, and everyone here was talking about the theatre.”


“Makes sense. Another glass?”


“Why not?” Jonus asked, handing his empty glass back to Antony.


The playwright once again returned to his liquor cabinet, again looking through the various bottles. “You know, I think I have one more bottle in here, even more expensive than the last one. Would you like to try it?”


“If it’s even better, I don’t see how I can refuse,” Jonus laughed.


“Again, I haven’t tried it,” Antony admitted as he filled Triton’s glass three quarters full with the same bottle as before. “But it is, by far, the most expensive bottle in my collection.”


“Sounds delicious,” Jonus slurred slightly as he spoke.


The playwright smiled as he topped off the glass with the new bottle, trying not to think too much about what he was doing. He returned, handed the glass to Jonus, who took one sip, and then suddenly turned serious.


“So, I suppose we should discuss business.”


“Business?” Antony asked. “What do you mean?”


“Well, as I said, I deal in favors. And you strike me as a man who could use some.”


“Do I, now?”


Jonus nodded. “For one thing, naturally, you could always use stories. I know my share of stories, and even if none of those work for you, I know plenty of others who might have some that do.”


Antony set his glass down and started stroking his chin with one hand while straightening his shirt with the other. “So, in return for a favor from me, you’ll tell me stories?”


“Sure,” Jonus said, then took another sip from his glass. “Or, maybe the opposite is a better deal for you. Maybe you would rather pay me not to tell stories.”


Antony’s face darkened. “Meaning what, exactly?”


“Meaning, it seems to me that people here would not take well to knowing that your plays aren’t quite as made up as people think they are. I’m a mind mage, Antony LaMount, and if there’s one impulse I picked up from you when we first met, it’s that you’ll do anything to keep that fact a secret.”


Jonus took another sip from his glass, and then pulled the chair in front of Antony’s vanity over and sat down, resting his wizard’s staff against the nearby wall. The playwright stared at him for a long moment, but then shrugged. “I suppose you’re right. I would. So what’s the deal, then?”


“Simple. I do you a favor now, and at some point, you do a favor for me. It’s that simple.”


“And your favor for me is that you don’t tell anyone my secret, is that right.”


Jonus closed his eyes and nodded. It seemed the drink was starting to get to him. “That’s it.”


“And what will my favor to you be?”


“No idea,” Jonus admitted. “But favors from planeswalkers are almost always the most useful. Someday, I’ll summon you, and you’ll help me.”


“And then what?”


“Then we’ll be even.”


“Will we?” Antony asked. “And who’s to say you don’t threaten to tell my secret then, and demand another favor in return?”


Jonus held up his hands, his expression one of genuine surprise. “Oh, please don’t think that! I’m a trader, not a blackmailer. My favor to you is ‘I won’t tell your secret,’ not, ‘I won’t tell your secret now.’ I know what it is to have secrets, and I know what it is to have someone willing to keep them for you.”


LaMount thought about this. “I suppose you have dealt in secrets before.”


“Secret favors, anyway,” Jonus said, slumping in his chair. “So what do you say?”


Antony considered as he tried to straighten his shirt. Then he spoke, trying to use his most affecting stage voice. “I’m not sure you know, Jonus Triton, everything I had to do to get where I am. I struggled. I fought. I sacrificed.” He paused, allowing Deborah’s face to flash in his mind. “I had to survive some of the darkest and emptiest moments of my life. I was cast out of my home, my troupe, and eventually my plane before I found a way to make it.”


Jonus blinked as he listened, but he could barely focus on the playwright. Antony continued. “It took everything I had and more to get where I am. I had to learn things I didn’t even know existed, secrets of magic, secrets of the mind. You’re not the first mind mage I’ve met, you know. Another one taught me a few tricks, like how to keep someone’s attention, to immerse them so much in my words that they ignore everything else, to empty their minds, which as you can imagine is very useful to an actor. But she also taught me something she hadn’t intended to. Do you know what that is?”


Jonus managed to move his eyes toward Antony, but he could move nothing else.


Antony smiled. “She taught me that mind magic gets very difficult to use when you’re drunk.” The playwright walked over to Jonus and crouched down. “You didn’t trust me when I offered you a drink. You scanned my mind. I felt it, but I couldn’t stop it. But after a few drinks, you stopped caring. And that’s when I gave you some of this.”


Antony withdrew a small, black bottle from his pocket. It was marked with a white skull. “Why did you have to come here? Everything was so simple before. Do you know how the people here wonder about me when I disappear for weeks or longer? I tell them I’m going off to the country, to work on my latest play. Instead, I go to another plane, and find a story I can use. And it’s worked perfectly, until you came here! Why? Why did you have to try to ruin everything? I didn’t want any of this! Why did you make me do this?”


Jonus Triton made a gargling noise as his head drooped. For as long as he could, he stared at Antony LaMount, but he could not speak.


“I said I would do anything,” Antony said as Jonus’s eyes closed for good. “I meant it.”



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