Gideon blinked, and he was not on Ravnica any longer. The rest of the Gatewatch, sans Jace, stood beside him on the rocks, looking out over a foreign ocean. They were surrounded by water, huddled on a small outcropping of rocks, no doubt from a reef. A forested island lay to their left, thick foliage providing no view inside.
Gideon looked to the right and almost jumped into the sea.
A ship bore down on them, only a few hundred feet away. Gideon looked closer and saw that it was anchored, but that didn’t help the feeling that it would be on them in a matter of seconds, breaking itself on their island and taking them with it.
Chandra took one look at the water around and swore.
Nissa lightly rapped her on the head. “Language,” she said, lightly.
Gideon ignored them for the moment, watching the deck of the ship. Someone had noticed them. This was good, because supposedly Jace was on this ship. Or on the island. Honestly, it hadn’t really been clear, before they planeswalked, where he was. Only that he was close by.
After the past few months of dead ends and goose chases, Gideon was praying to every god he knew that the mind mage was here.
As he watched, a small dingy lowered from the ship, and made its way towards the small group on the rocks.
Liliana squinted at the figure rowing the small boat. “Are we sure this is a good idea?” She hissed.
Gideon shrugged, worn and tired. The past few months had been draining on them all, as they tried without success to locate their friend. “It’s the only one we have, at the moment.”
“They saw us planeswalk here. They had to have, and now we have to give them the excuse of ‘deranged wizard??’ It only barely worked the last time.”
Gideon set his jaw. “Sailors are a superstitious lot. They’ll probably believe us if we say it was some weird sea magic.”
Liliana scoffed, but said no more.
The figure in the dinghy stood. “Ho, there! Are you lost?” The feminine voice sounded clearly across the lapping water.
Gideon glanced at everyone, and everyone glanced at him. “Possibly?” He shouted back. “Our ship…” he trailed off, realizing he had no idea how he was going to explain this.
Thankfully, it seemed he didn’t have to, for the woman—gorgon, he noticed, now that she was closer—rowed up to the rocks. She stopped a few feet away from their island and folded the oars inside her boat. She rested her hands on her knees, leaning forward, inquisitive.
“Now tell me,” she said, “Why you lot planeswalked into the middle of nowhere and, coincidentally, right in front of my ship?” Her voice, while before was almost friendly, now was almost threatening.
Gideon realized he knew why she didn’t come any closer. She knew what they were, but she didn’t know if they were friendly. She wasn’t going to offer them rescue until she knew they wouldn’t cause harm.
Gideon blinked. This was something he could handle. “We’ve come looking for a friend,” he said, crouching down, so that he was at eye level with the sailor. “You know what a planeswalker is. Have you maybe seen him? Short, brown hair, with a light tattoo on his face?”
Her eyes narrowed, and Gideon knew she had seen Jace. Gideon almost started crying. Finally, they were getting close.
“And if I had?” The gorgon replied, eyebrow quirking, telltale magic glinting threateningly behind her eyes. “How do I know that you’re really his friends?”
“Why do you care?” Chandra snarled, hands balling into fists. “You’re a pirate. How do we know you don’t have him locked up somewhere?”
Gideon sighed, “Chandra, she’s not a…” He paused as he glanced up and down the gorgon’s form, noting the swashbuckler style, the mismatched boots, the hint of valuables obviously not from the same place. Her eyebrow quirked, amused, and Gideon finally noticed what he should have found obvious.
“…a pirate.” He finished, lamely. “You are a pirate, aren’t you?”
“A pirate captain,” The gorgon snapped. She reached for her oars. “And I have an entire ship I need to keep out of your blast radius, so how about I just row back and leave you here to rot?”
“No, please!” Gideon begged, perhaps a bit to quickly. The pirate paused. “Please, we’ve been looking for him for months. The last we saw of him he was being attacked. If you know where he is, just tell us, and we’ll gladly leave you be.”
The gorgon appraised him, and he saw the strange light die from her eyes. She sighed, reached down and grabbed a length of rope. She tossed one end to him. “Come on, I’ll at least help you off this hunk of rock.”
Gideon nodded, grateful.
The ride to the looming ship was mostly silent.
“I hope you have a good excuse?” The captain asked, at one point. “Nearly half my crew saw your little stunt. You’re gonna have to come up with something better than ye old sea tale.”
Gideon looked at Liliana, then back at the gorgon. “A deranged wizard cursed us?”
The captain sighed, resigned. “Better, but not much.”
They were helped on board, and immediately Gideon could see the crew was wary of them. A tall woman with red hair that rivaled Chandra’s glared at them from the helm, and a number of pirates watched them from a corner.
The captain climbed aboard after them, and led the Gatewatch up to the helm. She spoke a few words to her helmswoman, then turned back to Gideon.
“Now,” she said, arms crossing. “Start talking.”
Gideon told her as much as he dared. That they were fighting an evil dragon named Bolas (the captain recognized this name as well, Gideon noticed), that Jace had attempted some kind of mental attack that ended poorly, that their following searches had been fruitless, that this was one of the best leads they’d had.
The captain nodded through most of it, listening intently. She asked a few questions here and there, but kept her mouth shut through most of it.
Their conversation was interrupted by a loud, booming laugh echoing from somewhere below deck. It was almost maniacal in candence, the sound of someone—or something—’s plans coming together. It chilled Gideon to the bone, how eerily familiar it sounded.
The captain tilted her head to the sound. “Oh, I guess he’s found something.” She glanced over them all once again, and Gideon watched as she seemed to come to a decision. She nodded to herself, and started down the steps.
Gideon looked at the others. Where they meant to follow? Nissa shrugged, face carefully blank. Gideon took a breath and forged after the gorgon. She glanced behind her shoulder, checking to see if Liliana, Chandra, and Nissa were following. Gideon followed suit. They were.
They climbed down the steps, just below the second deck. There were small portholes on this level, low to the floor. Gideon suspected they were to let extra water flow out of the ship.
The captain led them to a room at the back of the ship. The door was ajar, lamplight spilling out into the corridor. Sounds of mechanical tinkering wafted out, accompanied with the soft sound of a pencil scratching.
The captain gestured them to follow her, and opened the door fully. She stepped just inside the room, careful not to disturb the familiar piles of books and odds and ends scattered about. The walls were covered in chalk marks. Equations and theories spilled across the wood, some scratched out in fervor, some underlined and highlighted. Still more half-finished parts of…something covered sheets of paper strewn about.
In the center of it all, bent over the table, one eye screwed shut and tongue comically poking out one side of his mouth, was Jace Beleren.
The gorgon cleared her throat. Though Jace didn’t even spare her a glance, he said, “Oh, hey, Vraska! Look at this, I think I’ve figured out what we needed.”
“Jace, I don’t—“
“This’ll be quick, I promise. I’ll ramble fast, if that will help.”
Vraska shot Gideon and the others an apologetic look as Jace began his tirade. “Jace, really, we won’t—“
“Let me finish!” Still, without making eye contact, Jace’s arm shot into the air, waving, an enthusiastic invitation to examine his current project. Vraska sighed and folded her arms across her chest. Smiling, yet exasperated and not budging.
“I’m on a roll now, you can’t stop me.” Jace continued, “So I figured with Orazca gone for good, not only would it’s dampener on this plane be weakened, but it would eventually fade away entirely. And this is true, it’s just not fading fast enough. So I took the components from the mechanism and, with a counter spell, thought it might be able to dampen the dampener, cutting a hole through the barrier so we could walk through. What I didn’t…”
Gideon and the girls shared a glance. This was familiar, yet the eagerness and unbridled enthusiasm was completely unexpected. The Jace they left behind was bored, fidgety, horribly introspective, with a biting wit he barely controlled. He left the windows shuttered and the door closed, his study down several windowless hallways at the very bottom of his sanctuary. He presented himself with professionalism, clothes clean and pressed and hair combed. Even on the times Gideon had seen the illusions fail, normal, casual Jace still seemed to be hiding behind something.
This Jace was jittery with excitement over his newest breakthrough. He left the door open, and even though there was a glass porthole letting plenty of natural light in, he still left a candle burning in the darkest corner. He still rambled, but instead of an underlying current of snark and arrogance, it was in a genuine pleasure of unlocking the secrets of magic. His hair was longer, tied back to keep it from falling into his work, and he wore a pirate’s jacket like it was his birthright.
It was a Jace Gideon had seen too little of, and only in passing.
Glancing at the girls, Gideon saw that they saw and realized the same thing. Chandra and Nissa’s eyes were wide, taking in the scene like children watching their older brother compete at the arena for the first time. Liliana was…Liliana. Her face had a slightly less guarded cast to it, but when she caught Gideon looking, her eyes rolled to the ceiling.
Meanwhile Jace continued to ramble. “…At the very least, I was hoping one of us could planeswalk out, find the rest of the Gatewatch, if they aren’t dead, and bring them back to get the other, but it seems I might need to…”
Vraska finally stepped forward, rapping Jace on the shoulder with her spyglass. “Jace. We don’t need this anymore.”
Jace froze, mouth open mid-rant, as his brain tried to stop its current train of thought and switch to another one. He looked at Vraska, confused. “Wait, what?”
The captain gestured towards Gideon and the others, stepping aside to give Jace a clear view.
Jace gaped for a moment. Gideon could see that although he had three pieces of chalk in his coat pocket, he had another one tucked behind his ear and was using a fourth to write on the table.
Chandra waved, mouth quirking in a grin.
Gideon grunted, grinning himself. “Well met, Guildpact.”
Jace looked at Vraska. “I don’t think we’ll need this anymore.”
Vraska rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “No, shit,” she said, smiling.
Jace grinned at Gideon and scrambled up from the table. “How did you guys get here? Did Bolas—“ He was cut off as Chandra leapt into his arms, hair steaming and sparking.
“You! Stupid! Idiot!” She cried, hugging him tightly. “Don’t do that to us again! We had no idea where you were! Or if you survived or if you were a dragon snack!”
Jace chuckled warmly. It was almost a foreign sound, coming from him, considering how unused it was. “It’s not like a I had a choice. Y’know, getting my mind ripped apart by an omniscient dragon, activating a mental tripwire I didn’t know existed placed by another slightly less omniscient dragon and planeswalking away to a plane I’ve never encountered before without personal memories of any kind. Sorry, won’t happen again.”
Despite his words, there was none of the characteristic sarcasm behind them. Jace ruffled Chandra’s hair as she pulled away. She batted at his hand, scowling like the child she pretended she wasn’t. Nissa stepped forward next, hesitant, but Jace closed the gap and pulled her into a hug.
“We all missed you,” she said, barely intelligible, breathing into his shoulder.
Jace smiled as they pulled apart. “I missed you guys too, believe it or not.”
Gideon laughed, clapping his hand on the mind mage’s back. “I don’t think we do.” Eyes twinkling, he replied, “You seemed like you wanted to ask your project out to court. You could barely tear your eyes away!”
Jace rolled his shoulder and grimaced slightly. Oops. Oh well. He needed toughening up.
“You were the one that helped me remember how to make a fire. It was weird. I didn’t even know I was making illusions, or who you were, so when you showed up and criticized my fire-making skills I thought I was hallucinating.” Jace was still smiling.
The honesty almost caught Gideon off balance, but he thought he recovered fast enough Jace wouldn’t notice. Knowing him, the mind mage probably did.
Liliana smirked from her place in the doorway. “How do you know you’re not hallucinating right now?”
Without missing a beat, Jace shrugged and said, “The last time Gideon tried smacking me on the shoulder his hand went right through me and I fainted, sooo…” He shrugged again.
Liliana scoffed. Behind Jace, in the corner, Gideon saw Vraska’s eyebrows scrunch in contempt.
“But seriously, how did you get here?” Jace’s eyes were alight with a puzzle not finished, eager and open. Gideon was shocked, again. “Orazca’s magic still hasn’t completely faded, and the bindings connected to the thaumatic compass—“
“We have these.” Chandra flipped Jace her extra pin, and he scrambled to catch it. There was a bit less coordination than Gideon expected, but he realized Jace probably needed some extra training hours. Perhaps when they all got back, he could organize those sessions again. He had missed teaching them all.
Vraska leaned over Jace’s shoulder, not touching but still close, inspecting the pin with him. “What is it?” She asked, looking at Gideon.
“It’s a counter pin, attuned to a single spell,” Jace answered. “That one.” He pointed up, and at first Gideon was confused, but then he assumed Jace meant farther up than the ceiling. He meant the spell surrounding Ixalan itself. Jace glanced over them all, and noticing each of their pins.
He looked at Chandra. “Do you have another one?”
Nissa handed her extra pin over. Jace took it and handed it to Vraska, who balked.
“You should come with us,” Jace said, eager. “You know about Bolas, and you’ve got more reason than a lot of people to help us beat him. We could use another member.”
Vraska raised an eyebrow, glancing at Gideon and the others. “Another member of what?”
Jace suddenly seemed to remember where he was. He turned, following her gaze to the Gatewatch. He opened his mouth to say something, but Gideon cut him off.
“A member of the Gatewatch, if you choose, my lady.” He raised a hand to his chest. “If Jace thinks so highly of you as to offer this to you without hesitation, then we would be honored to have you join our ranks.”
Liliana stepped forward at last, eyebrow raised, mouth twisted into a smirk. She stared at Vraska with an expression Gideon quickly grew wary of. “And Jace’s opinions of people are simply stellar,” she said. “He hasn’t made enough lying, manipulating friends already.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
Gideon saw Vraska’s mouth open, but her’s was not the voice he heard in retaliation.
“What, like you?”
Gideon’s eyes snapped to Jace. The mind mage stood with shoulders back, chin sturdy. His feet planted rock solid into the deck beneath him, and he stared down Liliana with a strange ferocity. Jace wasn’t using magic of any kind, and yet this was the most powerful Gideon had ever seen him.
Liliana’s eyes widened, and she visibly restrained herself from taking a step back. She was just as unbalanced as the rest of them, and Gideon thought, just for a moment, that he saw past her mask and into the real Liliana.
The real Liliana was furious.
Jace turned back to Vraska. “So, will you do it?”
Vraska looked at the pin in his hand, and back to Jace. After a moments hesitation, she grinned, and grasped the pin between firm fingers. “I’m always ready for a new start,” She said, as if sharing a joke between her and Jace only.
Jace grinned, glancing at Gideon, then Nissa, then Chandra, then back to Vraska in turn. “So we actually have this thing where you say an oath. Why you joined the Gatewatch, why you care.”
Gideon snorted. “It’s not just a thing, Jace. It’s a declaration of oaths, a promise to all the people we protect—“
“I have it.”
“—that they—oh?” Gideon started. He hadn’t expected such a quick and decisive response, but when he met Vraska’s eyes, he saw nothing but determination.
“I have seen darkness in our hearts. I have seen unimaginable horrors rip across the planes, and I have seen too many people left forgotten in the gutters, left to die alone.”
She raised a hand, and golden sunlight seemed to swirl around it and into her eyes. She spoke, and though no one told her, she knew nonetheless. As if the planes themselves had decided, before the dawn of time, that she would make this oath.
“For those who cannot help themselves, from the smallest to the greatest dangers, I will keep watch.”