The sound of clanging emanated from the ceiling followed by a distinct hiss and puff of smoke before Ral hung his head out of a hatch, upside down and with a smudge of grease on his face, to look at Jace.
“I’ve almost got Project Spooky Field up and running for this hallway, feel like testing it?” he said, playfulness and excitement apparent.
“Ral, I thought I distinctly remembered telling you we were not putting up artificial electric fields to shock all our guests” Jace said, mouth a hard line but eyes betraying a hint of amusement.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about” said Ral with a smirk. “All that mind magic must be messing with your memories.” And with that, the guildmage swung himself out of the ceiling and onto the floor.
“Plus, Project Spooky Field isn’t going to shock our guests, it’ll just be enough to make their hair stand on end, give them a little shiver.”
“And you’re confident this electo-machine of yours won’t have any power spikes?” Jace replied critically.
“Come on Jace, let’s see your inner Izzet spirit. We’ll never be able to give the citizens of Ravnica a once in a lifetime experience if we spend too much time worrying about small risks of electrocution.” And with that he put an arm around Jace’s shoulder and began gesturing with a wave as they walked down the hall into the Gatewatch’s atrium.
“Say it with me, Project Spooky Field. You gotta embrace the branding my living tome of regulations. Imagine the scene, a young couple enters the darkened hallway, their hair instantly stands up on end, betraying the possibility of danger. They walk forward into the dimly lit hall, only to be assaulted by illusions of vampires, blood draining down their chins, and that’s just the entryway!”
Jace could feel Ral’s passion as he continued to describe the experience, the werewolf illusion calling from their garden and scrabbling at the windows, the blackened tree elemental he had talked Nissa into making, the heatless wall of fire near the exit he had Chandra working on. The mindmage had to admit he was impressed. Ral really wanted to make this haunted house special, to make their first Halloween together special.
“Think about it” Ral continued giddily, “Planeswalker strength illusions! We are totally going to beat out the Rakdos for best haunted house in the 10th this year.” Ok, Jace had to admit maybe Ral had some motives besides doing the best for the citizens. The man’s pride in the Izzet left him wanting to prove that his guild could help put on a good show too, even if it meant forcibly enlisting the Gatewatch.
“Plus ours doesn’t carry near the risk of bodily harm a Rakdos show would.” Ral declared excitedly, gesturing to the safety mechanism he had set to contain the swinging axes at the back of the atrium.
As if to ruin his point, sparks suddenly surged along the panel in the ceiling where Ral had been working earlier. Jace raised his eyebrows skeptically, feeling at least somewhat vindicated.
“Ok well, significantly less risk of bodily harm than the Rakdos shows. Happy now?” Ral said with a slight pout.
“I assume all this talk of illusions means you’ve planned on my agreeing to help?” Jace questioned.
“I may have planned on your help” Ral said quickly, then leaned in to give him a quick peck on the lips. “I assumed the Living Guildpact would want to help do something nice for the citizens of the Tenth. Plus,” Ral was smirking now “if you make it extra scary maybe I’ll be too afraid to walk home and have to spend the night.”
Jace’s brought his palm to his forehead, both covering some embarrassment at Ral’s overt implication and to quell the headache beginning to form as his mind calculated the scale of illusions his partner had planned. He sighed at just how much work managing all of these different illusions would be, at least thankful it seemed he would mostly just need to conjure visuals. Ral’s various machines seemed capable of handling the other senses: a vaporizer designed to diffuse the smell of blood through the atrium, fans and condensers designed to place a thick fog over their courtyard. Before he could object, Ral gave him a wink and then went sprinting off to find Chandra, muttering something about “more fire!”. And Jace had to admit, watching the spring in his step at the guildmage dashed around their house, genuinely excited and looking rather cute in his engineering gear, the mindmage wouldn’t have been able to deny him.
The preparation continued throughout the day, Ral’s inspiration getting more and more elaborate as the afternoon drew on. What started as a simple wall of heatless fire guests would have to cross through to exit now included a mix of fire elementals shaped like deadmalkin and flamekin bat illusions courtesy of Jace that would pursue guests from the ceiling. Gideon had borrowed a variety of weapons from his friends at the Boros, enchanting them to be dulled for safety and covering them with a fake blood dye before hanging them on the walls. Nissa, not to be outdone, had summoned imperceptibly thin vines, so small they would be unnoticeable in the dark, and used them to cover the floor of the garden and courtyard. The plan, Ral explained, was that she would cause them to move ever so slightly beneath guests’ feet, creating a sense of unbalance and creeping movement while staying far enough away to avoid tripping up any frightened visitors.
“Ok!” Ral exclaimed, stretching and pulling himself up from the floor where he had put the finishing touches on the fog condenser. “I think that’s the last of it. Everything should be ready to go. Now all we have left to do is get changed into our costumes.”
Chandra headed toward the guest quarters Jace had set up for each of his friends, gently ribbing Gideon about his only contribution being access to weapons, while Nissa followed slowly behind them. That left Jace with Ral in the atrium, doing a quick last-minute review of all the illusions Jace would need to conjure.
“That’s enough prep, I’m sure you have it down. Let’s head to your room, I left my costume and stuff up there and you still have to get ready too.”
“No need, I can just throw us up some illusory costumes here.” Jace responded, eyes glowing blue as the air shimmered around him, leaving the look of a half-transformed werewolf as it settled. His eyes were yellow, and hair had begun to grow down his face towards a slightly emergent muzzle. He was wearing what looked like blue pants made of coarse material, and a white t-shirt covered by a two-tone jacket: it’s body red but its sleeves yellow. “What do you want me to make for you?”
Ral stood aghast.
“Nothing about that is the proper Halloween spirit Beleren. We can’t all just illusion costumes for ourselves, plus coming up with one is half the fun.”
“Fine, go ahead and put on your costume then, I’ll be here.”
“No, come on Jace, I even got real costumes for the both of us.”
Were-Jace was already sitting against the wall, book in his hands, seemingly uninterested in Ral’s offer of a real costume.
“Fine, ignore all my hard work. If you stay here with that illusion, I guess I’ll just get changed into my costume alone. Good thing too, I decided to go commando today and had just accepted you’d be sneaking a peak” Ral quipped, hopping a little suggestion might lure Jace to his side. But despite an obvious reddening in his cheeks, Jace continued to read his book, leaving Ral alone on the stairs.
“Your loss!” Ral called, a little miffed, before making his way up to the Guildpact’s private chambers to get ready.
Jace wasn’t sure how long he’d been waiting, but Chandra was the first to make her way back to the atrium. She had on a black leather leotard and was draped in what appeared to be artificial chains, her outfit completed by a large red headdress accentuated by her flames.
“Whatcha think Jace? I’m a Rakdos blood witch. Scary right!”
“It’s something already, though I’m not sure scary is the right word.”
Chandra huffed. “Well, do you at least think Nissa will like it?”
“I think she will, though how about you ask her yourself?”
With that Chandra turned, seeing Nissa and Gideon walking down the hall. Nissa was dressed in a tattered grey slip, strategic holes cut to make it seem both alluring and yet maintain its look or worn age. Her typically rich skin was covered in a light grey power, instead making her usually vibrant self give off the sickly, undead look of a lich. Gideon, in contrast, was hardly recognizable, having covered himself entirely in an artificial thick white fur, giving himself the appearance of a leonine warrior. He even added a set of artificial cat ears amidst his dark tresses, his hair the only indication an Alaran planeswalker had not joined them in Gideon’s staid.
“Gids you look amazing, and Nissa, that costume is killer!” Chandra exclaimed, running over to feel Gideons fake fur and chattering with them about the materials they’d used. Jace was just about to join them when he heard Ral call down from the staircase.
“Damn, looks like I’m always the one late to the party”
Jace’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of Ral, dressed as the prototypical vampire. His black and white hair slicked back, and he had used magic or some materials to make his irises shine a deep red. Smiling at them as he walked down the stairs, Jace saw what appeared to be fangs covering Ral’s canines, with artificial rivulets of blood running down his bottom lip towards his chin. Instead of the traditional dress shirt, Ral had opted for a tight white tunic, clinging to his muscles and showing of his dragon tattoo. He still kept the long cape with a high collar, fastened neatly around his shoulders, though when Jace looked closer instead of the usual black it appeared he had opted for a rich midnight blue.
“You’re not the only one who can rock a blue cape Beleren.” Ral said with a smirk, striking a pose as he reached the bottom of the stairs. “What do you guys think, me or Jace, who wears it better?”
He was sure the rest of them were laughing and commenting, but Jace couldn’t focus enough to make it out, entirely enraptured by the man in front of him. Suddenly self-conscious about his hastily done wolf illusion, Jace had to admit Ral wore it much better, even if the midnight shade was a far cry from his trademark cerulean. Quickly enough though, the chatter died down and Ral was off fiddling with his various machines getting ready for the guests to arrive. Jace met Lavnia at the door, his assistant having agreed to coordinate visitors’ parties and send them through the manor in an orderly fashion. And when he peaked outside it seemed as though a line was already forming.
“Are we about ready Ral, looks like we have out first guests?” Jace called out from the foyer.
“Yup” Ral called back over the series of hisses and clangs of his machinery starting up. “If you’ve got the illusions ready you can tell Lavina to send the first group in in 5”.
Jace relayed the message to Lavina then took his place in the atrium, conjuring all the wolves, ghouls, flamekin, and other effects to life.
As the first group made their way through, Jace couldn’t help but smile to see the mix of admiration and fear on their faces as they shrank back then leaned forward to admire all their work. True to form, Ral’s Project Spooky Field really did set the tone nicely, and soon enough the night was flying by as hundreds of guests streamed through the Guildpact’s home. Jace saw a few familiar faces as the night wore on, Emmara Tandris came through at one point, taking her time in the garden to admire Nissa’s elemental and stooping down with a smile to examine the thin vines on the floor of the courtyard. Teysa too made an appearance, walking quickly through and seeming unamused, but Jace was sure feeling as though making an appearance at the Guildpact hosted function was a necessary political move for the Orzhov. He even encountered a few offworld friends. Sorin Markov made an appearance, seeming thoroughly unimpressed with their haunted house and inviting Jace and Ral to Innistrad next year for a real Halloween at Markov mannor. Ral readily agreed, ignoring Jace’s polite objections that Innistrad at Halloween might be a bit more than Ral bargained for. Finally, the last guest cleared out and Gideon came through to give them a thumbs up from his place at the exit. Chandra and Nissa collapsed onto the chase lounge, resting after keeping their elements active all evening. The group talked about their favorite guests, the best reactions, and the fun of the night before lethargy finally got the best of them. Jace bid Lavina goodnight and Gideon goaded the girls of the gatewatch into leaving their couch in favor of their quarters.
Standing in silence for a few moments, Jace looked at Ral.
“So, are you scared enough to walk home you’d fancy spending the night?” he asked the guildmage tentatively.
“I’m not sure if I’m scared to walk back to Nivix” Ral said, placing his hands around Jace’s neck then leaning in close, “but there is something I fancy here, so I think I’ll spend the night”.
Grinning at that and stealing a quick kiss, Jace led them up to his quarters, where after a long soak in his tub, they hopped into his large four poster bed. Ral was already snoring, arm draped lazily across Jace’s torso, but the mindmage wasn’t quite ready for sleep yet, instead choosing to lie there watching his lovers peaceful face. As he looked over to Ral lying in bed next to him, already asleep after the exhaustion of putting on this big event, Jace couldn’t help but feel like Ral had done this as much for him as for all the guests. It was a wonder to be in a relationship where someone did things truly to make him happy, rather than to gain any sort of advantage from him. His heart swelled at the thought of it. A moment later, Ral stirred, looking him in the eyes and seeing Jace was still awake.
“Mhmmmm. Why’re you still up?” Ral mumbled sleepily.
“Just thinking” Jace replied softly.
“’Bout what?” Ral questioned.
“Nothing and everything, about how lucky I am” Jace said quietly, “About how much I love you.”
His heart lept the moment he said it, but quickly calmed. It was true. Despite their sometimes-infuriating clashes of authority, despite how quickly Ral could be suspect of his mental advances, despite how very Izzet the man could sometimes be, Ral made him feel loved in a way he hadn’t in a long time. And he loved Ral in return.
Mouth slightly parted, both in passion and surprise, Ral looked up into his lover’s eyes. “I love you too Beleren. Happy Halloween.”
With that, there was nothing more to say. A quick kiss, but nothing deeper, as the exhaustion from the day quickly dragged them both into restful slumber.
When Jace awoke in the morning, it was with Ral plastered warm and sleepy to his side. Remembering their conversation from the night prior, Jace beamed inwardly, lazily tracing the tattoo on the arm draped across his chest. Eventually, Ral stirred, greeting him with a good morning kiss and then slowly stretching.
“I could get used to waking up like this” Ral commented.
“I could too” Jace replied, still letting his fingers laze over whatever parts Ral left near.
“Could make this not going home thing more permanent, though I’d still spend plenty of nights at the lab”
Jace paused. Was Ral asking what he thought the man was? He looked up toward his lover’s face, seeing the attempts to remain casual despite the searching look in his eyes. Reflecting on last night’s admission, Jace made up his mind.
“I’d love that Ral. You barely spend time at your apartment now anyway, between being at the lab and being here. If you’d like to, I’d love you to move in.”
Ral grinned momentarily, then tried to downplay it, before giving up and letting his giddiness overtake him. He leaned back in and kissed Jace.
“Then it settled”, another kiss, “I’m moving in!” Ral sat up and scooted to the edge of the bed, grabbing his underwear from the floor and dragging them on.
“Let’s get some breakfast to celebrate.” Ral paused, thinking. “But also, just to be clear, me moving in doesn’t mean I’m joining your Gatewatch.”
Jace chuckled, “Of course not. Ravnican to the core and all that.” Ral huffed, but was pleased that Jace accepted his views on planeswalking as they were.
Jace looked around the room, seeing the discarded portions of Ral’s costume. Thinking back, he asked, “Hey Ral, what costume would you have had me wear if I hadn’t done my illusion?”
The lightning mage turned from where he sat on the edge of the bed, glint in his eye, to crawl with exaggerated move toward Jace.
“So now you want to know, do you?”
Finally reaching him, Ral crawling on top of his partner, before beginning with a kiss on his jaw, slowly working his way down to his neck.
“I had you a vampire costume as well” he spoke, teeth playing dangerously across the mindmage’s throat.
“I thought I might persuade you to ravish me” and a quick nip at his lover’s neck, “or suck my blood” and a lick over his jugular, before pushing himself up eye to eye with Jace.
“Or, if I was lucky, to get my vampiric Guildpact to suck something else” Ral said, waggling his eyebrows, before diving below the sheets.
Good god, Jace thought to himself, this was one way to celebrate. Running his fingers through Ral’s hair and sighing in satisfaction, his last thought before passion consumed him was that he really did love Ral Zerek.