Perhaps some necessary evil
Group woke up in the darkened interior of a livewood hut. Through tightly shut window blinds noise seeped from outside. Voices of children were responding to silky smooth elven voice. From what the party gathered Wyn was teaching children to take care after injured animals.
Wataru, Nai and Katrille looked around their little shelter. It was not poor, but not fancy either. Everything seemed in place and cared after, sun beams were leaking into the interior making light strips in the pollen filled air. Neirius was lying slightly sweating and breathing deeply in his trance like slumber.
“Anyone saw where our newly met elven girl went, Neia if I remember?” Nai asked the remaining two.
Her question was met with inaudible mumbling and a shy shrug.
“We need to figure out what to do with our friend here. He does not seem like improving very rapidly.” Nai stated.
“By my knowledge it will take up to three days for him to fully recover from the physical strain of the enchantment he had on.” Wataru spoke.
Katrille just stood slightly afar and observed the situation.
“We should ask Wyn to look after him and go all our ways till he wakes up.” Nai suggested.
“Mhh”, elephant made a sound of agreement through his thick trunk.
“There, now cut the cloth in half, yes, now use the two sides to wrap around the leg and tie them together. A bit tighter. Great job Osonia.” Wyn was teaching a young petite looking girl to bandage injured feet on a turtle-like creature. “Ah, you are finally awake. How is your friend holding up?”
“Still sleeping. Would you mind if he stayed here for a couple of days?” Nai asked.
“Uh, well, I don’t want to keep a stranger in my house. I am not really exalted by the prospect of keeping someone who clearly is in some connection with Orzhov. And from the looks of it, that connection nearly got him killed.” Wyn tried to object.
“Mister Zumro, what happened to Selesnyan values that you taught us?” Wataru spoke up, “All are one. One care for all. Or will you not stand by your own words?”
“Well, … Wataru, I …” Wyn stumbled with words after such direct questioning of his values. “Don’t think, young Wataru, that everything is so pure in this world as you remember from your early days. Ravnica has changed. Guildpact has changed.”
“But Selesnya is still in your heart and mind?” loxodon continued.
“Yes! Without a doubt! Fine. I will keep your friend safe until he wakes up.”
“Thank you, mister Zumro.” elephant firmly claimed his moral victory.
“But I will not do that just out of my beliefs. I accepted you and your friend in the middle of the night. I took down his enchantment and gave you shelter. I want you to give something back for Selesnya.”
“We can pay, if that is what you want, old elf” Nai proposed.
“I find no use in currency. I have all I need here in the Conclave.” Wyn Zumro stated, “But I worry for the forests. There had been many Gruul incursions lately, they just come and go as they please, hunting and ravaging our precious wildlife. Selesnya would be grateful if you did something about it.” elderly elf looked with a weird spark in his eyes, “You, working without guild orders, could intercept Gruul without the repercussions of the Guildpact.”
The group stood in the garden talking to the elf, when a figure emerged from the forest. It was a teenage girl, with her mascara smudged off, hair in complete mess, and Rakdos festive apparel cut in various places from, what seems to have been, an exhausting trek through the forest.
“I came for Neirius” she said, pressing a piece of paper in her hand.
“Why… Ergh. We should have killed her in that alley.” Wataru trumpeted.
Meanwhile Nai snatched the piece of paper from her hands. It was the same letter as Wataru had. With Izzet seal and Neirius handwriting.
“What are you? Why did you attack us in that alley?” Nai tried to approach the matter with diplomacy. “You understand we just retaliated to your actions.”
“I, … I saw Neirius on the ground, covered in dirt and weird magic… I thought… Well, I am still not sure… Why do you took Neirius? What do you want to do with him?” the ragged girl spoke, a bit stumbling on her words.
“What do you want from Neirius? We are his friends!” loxodon was not buying her act.
“I am his friend too! Well, maybe not a ‘friend’ friend, but we did business together. He sold me fireworks and liquid flame. And other things useful in my acts… I don’t want anything bad happen to my contact!” Rakdos girl protested about her motivation. “I don’t know what kind of friends are you!”
Nai felt that her motivation is not far fetched from this weird girl, so she made her first move:
“What is your name? You know that you look horrible, don’t you?”
“Umm, they call me Shinigami, I’ll go get some water… You understand most of my appearance is your doing, right?” she looked around “Mister elf man, do you have any water?”
“There is a grotto nearby, a small waterfall and a pond. I suggest you took your time there.” Wyn dryly stated eyeing the dirty girl up and down.
“I still don’t think we should trust this girl. She attacked us first!” Wataru told as Shinigami took her leave towards the grotto. Rakdos girl turned around and showed her tongue.
“Well, you all look equally shady to me. You brought a guy, as I understand, from the lowest gutters, which none of you know very well.” Wyn was getting nervous about his latest guest. “He is attracting the weirdest attention, you know…”
Out in the edge of the garden, a pack of kids formed and started joyfully jump up and down. Through the heads of enthusiastic children, a long-haired elven figure could be barely seen.
“Oh my, oh my, how all of you grown, here, I have some sweet-wood, I knew you would all like to share little blessing from Mat’Selesnya.” The tall elf with white ceremonial dress spoke softly to the gathered children. He carefully pushed himself through the flock of kids and came to hug Wyn Zumro. “How are you doing old friend? I see you have quite the company today. Is it okay if old Vuduin came to visit you?”
“Ah, you are not as old as you think, come, come, I will boil some tea. Do you bring any good news?”
“Sure thing, Wyn, I spoke with my elders, they promised to do something about the Gruul in your forests. But you know how those old priest go, it will take them a while to…” their voices disappeared in the doorway of the hut.
A brief pause went silent among the group.
“I don’t think this is the best place for Neirius to be. Very open. Does Mister Zumro always gets this many visitors?” Nai was getting anxious about their friend.
“We can arrange transport for Neirius to Sunhome. He would get better care in the infirmary, than here in the dark corner.” Wataru proposed.
“I think that is a good idea.” Katrille spoke, startling the other two.
“So it is settled, elephant, he is your friend, can you arrange the moving of our sleeping beauty, while we do something in return for the lovely elf?” Nai started giving orders with her soft voice.
“Hmph.” loxodon nodded in agreement. “I will arrange this with mister Zumro. I guess elven rangers can deliver him with my note.”
They walked to the edge of Gruul territory and started searching for any traces of Gruul incursions. Meanwhile Rakdos performer played various tunes on her pipe. Ranging from mimicry of bird calls and melodic wind blows, to a straightforward battle march. Suddenly, Wataru stopped all of them and pointed to the ground. Tracks of a large bipedal creature entering the forest from the Gruul rubble sat in the lush forest foliage.
“We should follow these and see where they lead.” elephant stated.
“Don’t you think this are the footprints of half-ogre we met yesterday?” Nai was sceptical about their find.
“No, these are the feet of a giant.” Shinigami told firmly. “What? I work with giants, what’s wrong if I remember how their footprints look?” she reacted to the sudden silence that fell among the party.
“Well, that’s enough for me. Let’s check it out.” Nai went on after the tracks.
Shinigami continued playing her tunes, but the melody was diverging from the surrounding sounds of the forest more and more. The last melody was so disturbing, that the remainder of the party demanded to stop playing. Also because they were trying to sneak on some Gruul after all.
“Fine.” she was obviously unhappy to do so.
After at least half an hour of tracking the trail of a large monster, Nai saw a glimpse of a spear wielding goblin slowly creeping through the forest. His fur clothing and wild tattoos indicated he was from a Gruul clan. She signaled to remaining party to stay silent and disappeared in the thick foliage.
Moments later she came back with a struggling goblin in her arms. His mouth was filled with some sort of textile, his neck was locked within a firm grasp, the goblin was helplessly flailed his empty arms around. She handed the little creature to Wataru, who picked up the goblin like a child. Nai showed to the goblin that he must remain silent and after getting a positive response from a frightened creature, she slowly removed the textile.
“Aaaaghmpht!” the critter tried to shout, but the gag went right back in and the goblin was pressed firmly to the ground.
“What will we do with this one? He does not seem cooperative.” Wataru held the goblin pinned down with his large knee.
“Let me talk to him. I know some goblin.” Katrille proposed.
“Sure, go for it.” Nai nodded.
Katrille crouched next to the goblin and carefully selected her words, but from what it seemed the goblin just got more agitated. Then out of nowhere Shinigami started whispering in Abyssal, to which the goblin reacted like to hellfire.
Finally, seeing that nothing is helping, Nai stepped in.
“Wataru, pick him up. Now listen you little rat, you have two options here, either I open you up and give your intestines to this cute devil beside me,” she pointed to Shinigami, “or you calm down and answer a few of our questions.”
Firm statement from the knife bearing girl seemed to get the point across the goblins scared eyes.
“And not even a sound, or I will make sure you never make a squeak again.” she said in low and lovely voice, as she pressed the dagger to his throat. Goblin was tense, but seemed cooperative. “Now, what are you doing here in the forest?” she asked and removed the gag.
”… we hunt!”
“Shhh, not so loud.” her dagger pressed harder to his skin. “How many are there and what do you hunt?”
“One, two, four, five, no, four…” goblin counted with his eyes darting across the forest.
“And? What do you hunt here?” Wataru shook the goblin a little.
“Ferox! We tracking Ferox.” goblin barked out
“Boss wants hide. Hide good. Protect from magic.” goblin replied quite surprised why they want to know something like that. But a knife next to his throat left him little space to openly ask the assailants.
“Where is this ‘Ferox’ you are hunting?” Katrille asked.
“Cave, behind tree, let me go, me no do nothing to you, me just humght…” with those words gag went right in.
“I don’t think we can trust him. Only one thing for sure, there are more of these Gruul marauders here.” Nai suspected.
Party slowly crept forward, paying attention to any movement. They stopped before an opening, which led to a cave entrance, no sign of Gruul.
“Wait, look!” Katrille pointed at a looming shadow next to the cave
“Huh?” Wataru squinted his eyes and looked closely. “What is that thing?”
“It seems like an ettin. And pretty good at hiding, that one.” Nai confirmed.
“Let’s go kill ‘im” Shinigami was almost jumping up and down in excitement. “I bet you a coin of pure gold that I will slice one of his heads of” she told to Nai.
“That sounds like a deal. You all wait here, I will go and look around first.” Nai slid gently among the foliage and disappeared from their sight.
Meanwhile the party eyed the ettin who was slowly creeping towards the cave entrance. He was silent and agile, which surprised both Wataru and Kartille. Shinigami on the other hand was more interested in imagining how his head will fall, and playfully swinging her scythe around. Suddenly a low growl came from the cave and ettin dove into the darkness.
Nai went around the opening and, to her surprise, felt warm strong furry hands embrace her firmly. She felt as ground slid under her shoes and together with her assailant they disappeared in a thick bush. The grip slightly loosened. Nai turned her head and saw a large minotaur, with rings in his large ears and nose, with two metal coated horns and a thick fur around his face. He let the human completely loose.
“What are you doing?” Nai asked reaching for her daggers.
“Shhhh” minotaur hissed, “we hunt large prey.”
He seemed not alarmed by fragile looking human and went on quietly into next bush. Nai followed.
“You hunt too?” bearded beast asked in a hushed voice “We claim hide. That is Gruul now.” he stated with confidence that only Gruul have.
“Maybe we are hunting…”
“Then we hunt together, now hush” just as he said this, ettin dove into the cave. Minotaur got a firmer grip on his hammer and strode into the opening, readying himself for whatever will come out of the darkness.
On the other side of the opening a human man with tattoos covering his strong upper body appeared. He banged his two war axes and released a raged shout just when a large beast charged outside with huge giant clinging to his head.
Beast rammed the giant into a tree, then jumped aside and sliced with his scary looking claws at the open chest below two angry heads.
“Bleik will hunt you dooooooowwnn!” a mace slammed into the shoulder of the beast sending it stumbling to the right.
“No! Tezar will hunt you down!” a huge yet crude axe caught stumbling creature right between the eyes.
“No fair! You have axe!” one of the heads started complaining as the beast fell lifeless on the ground.
At that point Wataru was already charging into the giant. Seeing this, Nai sunk an arrow deep into the back of the friendly looking minotaur, who yelped and turned around with surprise.
“Why you!” he could not finish his sentence as a second arrow caught him in the eye.
Bare chested human did not have any time to react either, his chest lit up from arcane energy and ruptured with blood and gore. Katrille was doing her part in this standoff.
Shinigami charged together with the elephant and jumped with her scythe directly on the giant slicing a nasty wound in his right side.
“AAARRRGGHHHH” both heads roared in unison and Rakdos performer barely dodged the huge axe. But the swing from the mace hit her directly in her chest and she went flying, landing face down in the dirt. Her body stayed motionless.
Nai seeing that the situation was getting really bad, really fast, remembered from her youth that ettins are quite gullible.
“How many teeth an ettin has?!” she shouted to the giant.
“Huuh? I don’t knooow? One, two… Thhreee…”, one of the heads pushed a finger into his mouth counting.
Another head was focused on the angry elephant who slammed into his back.
“Buzz off Boros ‘phant!” the head shouted as it planted the axe into the chest on the elephant, forcing it down to its knees.
An arc of lightning buzzed from Wataru, he coughed up a large chunk of bloody mass and fell down beneath the feet of mighty Bleik Tezar.
Both Katrille and Nai released their fury on the giant, and quickly it succumbed to magic and arrows.
“Katrille, quick do something” Nai shouted as she ran to fallen elephant. She tried to stop the bleeding from a tremendous wound, but it was hopeless. Elephant choked on his own blood and released the final breath.
Shinigami was holding slightly better. Her side was caved in, but at least she was breathing. Katrille used her magic to place the broken ribs back to their appropriate location and it seemed that this young girl will live another day.
“I don’t believe it!” Nai cried out. “Oh you stubborn son of an elephant…”
Two girls scavenged the remnants of the fight. They found a bunch of useless Gruul amulets and in the pouch of large giant they located a pack with Boros insignia on it. As they flipped it open, three bright blue tear shaped forms shined in the sunlight falling through the thick foliage.
“Hand me those” Katrille commanded. She walked to heavily breathing Shinigami and pressed one of the teardrops to a bright red spot on her side. Within seconds the bones started mending and girls breathing stabilised. She opened her bloody eyes.
“What happened? Did we win?”
They returned to the hut of mister Zumro, with a dead elephant on their shoulders.
“What on earth happ… Oh, by the grace of Mat’Selesnya!” Wyn shouted out and jumped to the lifeless body of his pupil. “I… I never wanted for this to happen. May his soul rest within the Conclave.”
“Not so fast. I think we still have hope.” Katrille intercepted.