Way to life
Grim atmosphere loomed in the small sparsely decorated room.
“So, what are we going to do with the dead elephant in the room?” Shinigami broke the silence, slowly poking thick loxodon’s skin with her flute.
“I know of a scientific way to bring our friend here back from the astral plane. It requires a tiny bit of science and a skilled biochemist.” Katrille started, “When I was learning in the Prism university, we had a course about revivification potions. Unfortunately I can not brew them myself.”
“We’re listening…” Nai seemed anxious to hear how to raise the ‘phant.
“Let’s go to Seventh Zonot. I know one particular biochemist there, mister Iosif, he should be capable of brewing such potions. And if fortune smiles upon us, he might even have such potion at hand.”
“Poink.” Shinigami pushed her flute into elephants eye socket.
“What are you doing? You attacked him on first meeting, now you are disgracing his body?!” Nai suddenly burst.
“Maybe he is still sleeping? I want to be sure…” Shinigami continued to probe the corpse.
“Ah, in the name of all that is still living, stop doing that!” Nai turned her eyes away, “Katrille, how far is this Zonot?”
“If we get a guide out of Selesnyan woods and reach Tin street, I would say, four hours walk?”
“And where are we…” Nai’s sentence was interrupted by a creaking door. Elven woman came in with a tamed wolf by her side. “Oh, now you show up!”
Neia, the elf they met in the forest day ago, froze in the doorway with disbelief painted on her face. Her eyes jumped from the huge wound on the elephant corpse to each of the girls in turn, looking for some sort of explanation.
“What happened to Wataru? By the grace of Mat’Selesnya, what have you done to him?”
“We were cleaning the Gruul incursion in your forests, when Wataru took an axe to his face.” Nai spoke looking the elf straight in her dark eyes.
“I,… we…” Neia stammered, “I just returned from Sunhome, where we delivered Wataru’s friend and his note. You should have waited for me…”
“Well, we did what we thought was necessary to repay your old man. And it went slightly overboard.” Nai exhaled deeply, “Look, we are going to bring this ‘phant back to the realm of the living. For that we need to get to… Again, Katrille, where should we go?”
“Zonot Seven, research chambers below Prism University.” vedalken replied with dry voice.
“Yeah, there. So can you lead us through your forests?”
“I can, and I will, what about Wataru’s body?”
Everybody turned their eyes to the dead loxodon, who’s gray skin was now decorated by multiple renditions of male genitals.
“Yep, he is definitely dead.” Rakdos performer said with pride in her voice while finishing her work.
“We can’t bring him with us, it took us ages to drag him back from the battleground.” Nai looked around for anything useful to put the body in, which already had large flies circling about. “And we can’t just leave it here to rot.”
“You most definitely can’t!” old elf in the corner spoke up, “As much as I want to believe that you will revive dear Wataru, I don’t want a decaying corpse in my living room.”
For a moment the room stood silent if not for the flies buzzing.
“I can wrap his body in preserving stasis in a nearby tree, that should keep it relatively fresh until you come back.”
Wyn suppressed the urge to add an “if” in his sentence. He overlooked the inexperienced party judging their capabilities.
“In ten days I will perform a proper burial for the fallen.”
“We leave at dawn.” Nai did not even bother to ask the old elf’s permission to stay for the night.
With the first rays of the morning sun, party led by Neia, paced through the waking forest. After spending the last few days in nature Nai and Katrille were starting to see the differences in trees and undergrowth between the tidy Selesnyan and wild Gruul territories. Shinigami on the other hand was too focused on her flute to pay any sane attention to changing surroundings.
“Careful, we are now in Gruul territories, we should…” Neia’s warning was cut short by weird chirping sound from the Rakdos flute.
“Yeah…” Nai stroked back her long dark hair in disbelief. “At least let’s spread out a little.”
Party, apart from Shinigami, moved carefully forward, keeping their eyes peeled for any signs of ambush or Gruul marauders. Without even saying a word, the quiet three girls reached a uniform decision to use Rakdos musician as a walking bait. Couple of minutes later elf spotted a wild maaka.
“I think it is on a hunt. What should we do?” Neia wanted to simply walk away, she was not fond of killing any living creature without a good reason. And in her mind, she was the one trespassing, not unlike the Gruul in Selesnyan forests.
“I don’t think it saw us yet, we could simply move around…” Nai’s tactical plan was cut short by a loud note from a flute, which sounded a bit like a cat having a stroke. “Ah, forget it.”
Maaka, a large cat like creature, with brown fur and dark stripes on its back, started circling the group, with it’s six amber eyes locked on the origin of this ruckus - pale Rakdos girl.
Neia hid among the thick leaves while Nai climbed a nearby tree, getting a better view of the situation. Katrille snapped her fingers and a white owl appeared on her shoulder. With a whisper she commanded the owl to fly towards the approaching predator and try to distract it. Yet the ferocious cat was already fixated on a juicy human with ragged festive clothing and a flute in her hands.
Seeing as the situation will not get better, Nai tightened her shortbow and released an arrow, aiming for the head. It went a bit right and struck the beast in it’s furry back. Neia followed with her arrow sinking right next to it. Katrille recalled her familiar and released an icy blast which froze better part of maaka’s front paw, slightly incapacitating her movement.
Shinigami stopped playing her flute moments before wild cat leaped forward with deadly claws aimed to pin down the girl. Rakdos girl playfully jumped aside, dodging the beast and laughed.
“Oh you poor thing, I will skin you alive!” with these words a large black sphere appeared around both Shinigami and the bleeding creature.
Remaining party members watched the sphere with disbelief. Meanwhile inside it, in complete magical darkness, maaka’s eyes went burning with rage. It was cornered and scared. It lunged forward and sank its teeth into Shinigami’s shoulder. She yelped and pushed against the large animal with all her strength to no avail. Concentrating on the pain she felt, she spoke a single phrase in infernal. Hellish flames spun around the predator. Fire in the eyes of the cat dimmed and the creature with a painful roar succumbed to the spell.
The magical sphere contracted and disappeared, revealing now standing Shinigami, probing charred remains. Party slowly gathered around the dead beast.
“Anyone hungry?” Rakdos girl tried to appear frivolous, but her shoulder was nearly torn off, blood was streaming down her arm.
“Are you insane?” Nai was not happy with these turn of events, “We could have just avoided the beast! Now look at you!”
“It was just a little fun…” Rakdos tried to protest.
“Katrille, can you do something about her shoulder?” Nai turned to the vedalken scientist.
“I can freeze it off, if that helps?”
“Um, I’ll be fine” Shinigami carefully tried to assemble pieces of her shoulder back.
“Don’t worry, here, push this into the wound.” Katrille handed her a blue teardrop.
“Thanks. Ow ow ow ow…” the healing magic from the Simic teardrop accelerated growth of fresh skin to cover teeth holes in her shoulder, but the shoulder was still colored deep purple.
“At least you will not bleed to death now. I don’t want to have another body to raise from the dead.” Nai complained.
Nai turned around and walked pass the elf with a hungry looking wolf by her side.
“Go on, boy, have a bite.” Neia let her wolf to feast on the remains, and walked after Nai, “Listen, we, um, we should be more careful here.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Nai looked around for a larger tree, and started climbing it all the way to the top.
“You seem like a leader here?” elf statement hung in the now peacefully chirping and singing forest.
Over the treetops Nai could see a Gruul encampment about 30 minutes to the north. It was rather large, by Nai’s approximation it could house about 50 people. She climbed back down and shared her findings with the group.
“Oh, oh, we should go there!” Shinigami jumped up and down.
“Are you sure you were not hit on your head recently?” Nai thought for a second, “Oh, riiight. Nevermind that. No, we are not going into Gruul camp. Look at us. A Simic scientist, a Selesnyan ranger, Rakdos performer, and, well, me. We are not friends of the Gruul. And we are covered in their blood from the last few days.”
“I agree with Nai.” Katrille nodded.
“We should move.” Neia interrupted, as her wolf raised its head listening to something deep in the forest.
They carefully moved through the remaining of Gruul rubble without any further incidents, mostly because they kept Shinigami away from singing and playing her flute.
As the reclaimed landscape gave way to standing buildings and paved streets, party turned directly to Tin street. Sun hung above their heads, the street was filled with smells of freshly baked meat, noises of haggling and lots and lots of people. Nai clenched her pouch just to be sure no soul would try to separate her and her hard earned coin. Shinigami dove into the nearest alley and swapped her bloody leather clothing, which was more like a web of straps and chains than a normal apparel, to something less eye-catching. Neia took her wolf by it’s collar and moved through the thick of the flow, watching carefully for her new pet. Vedalken simply walked directly towards Zonot Seven, expecting others would follow her through the crowd.
Better part of the next hour they navigated through densely populated area of The Blistercoils, and came to the eastern side of Zonot Seven. A huge hole with waterfalls from all sides went down as much as they could see.
“Ok, our goal is directly on the other side.” Katrille announced, “We want to go through Prism University, or living quarters and maintenance side?”
“Let’s go straight!” Shinigami proposed.
“It is said that it goes all the way down to the underground ocean. I would not recommend jumping in. It is quite the fall.” Katrille replied with dry vedalken precision.
“Prism University sounds good to me. Let’s go.” Nai commanded, “And Rakdos, keep your behaviour in check.”
Katrille lead the party through the courtyards of Prism university, then took a stairwell at the edge of Zonot leading down and walked into damp tunnels.
“This is where most of Simic laboratories are located, you should watch your step, there are sinkholes in these corridors for water creature access.”
After couple of minutes navigating the near labyrinth like corridors Katrille pointed to a reinforced wooden door. A small metal tablet with letters “Dr. Iosif” hung next to the entryway.
“Here we are.” Katrille pushed the door, it opened up into a well lit space with large aquariums and terrariums, each sized as a small house.
There were six of these large glass enclosures in total, taking up most of the space in this large hangar like space underground. A pathway between two terrariums led to the left, on the opposite side shelves were filled with various utilities, most probably to take care after multitude of creatures that were kept here. Final path lead straight on all the way up to two pools built against the furthest wall, purpose of which remained a mystery at this distance.
“I am going to speak with Iosif. Don’t do anything stupid!” vedalken turned on her heel and strode between the glass enclosures, paying no attention to bizarre Simic experiments, some of which watched the humanoid with curiosity. Some of the smaller ones even flew, swam, hopped or slithered closer to the glass.
Katrille knocked on the inner laboratory door, leading to the research chambers.
“Yes?” an old vedalken, with few wrinkles on his otherwise smooth face greets the girl. “What brings you to the exalted laboratory of Biochemist Iosif?”
“We are looking for revivification potion.”
“We?” Iosif looks behind Katrille into the corridor, where Rakdos girl is tapping on the glass of one of the enclosures, “Please do not scare the specimens!”
“Wha? Oh right, sorry, mister…” an unpredictable change in behaviour yet again.
Katrille took a deep breath and turned back to biochemist.
“Would you happen to have a potion like that?”
“I most certainly do. And given the right price, I will even refrain from asking who you are going to use it on.”
“We have a dead elephant” Shinigami spoke up, “I checked it very thoroughly”
“I see. And I charge 500 coin for the po…” loud crash followed by howling, chirping and slurping from the specimen chamber stopped Iosif from finishing the sentence.
Old vedalken, with unexpected agility ran past the two stupefied girls.
One of the enclosure walls was shattered. Creatures ran, jumped and flew in all directions.
A four legged shark like creature, with multiple beady eyes on flexible stems bolted towards the pools at the end of the room and dove into one of them with a little splash.
Iosif cursed under his breath and shouted back at the girls while running full speed towards the pool where creature had disappeared:
“Don’t let them escape, I need these specimens!” he mumbled some sort of spell and jumped after the creature into the water.
The girls were left in turmoil. Winged creatures not bigger that rats flew below the high ceiling of the room, crab like creatures were crawling out through the broken glass. A few larger specimens were looking for escape from their captivity.
Small creatures did not seem to pose much danger, but one of the larger ones started hopping towards the party, snapping it’s crab like claws.
“Quick, I found some nets here” Nai shouted from the storage area and threw all sorts of capturing tools to the middle of the corridor.
“I think the big blob of muscle is aiming to eat us for diner” Shinigami pointed to a five legged lump of pure muscle, with a menacing bird like beak affixed to a strong neck. Two yellowish eyes stuck in the sides of the beak alternated, as the creature wobbled it’s neck to get a better view of it’s prey.
“Stand back, let me put them to sleep” Katrille commanded, mumbled few arcane words and blew some white powder from her palm. Multiple small, and two of the larger creatures, succumbed to the spell, some of them hitting the ground pretty hard. The muscle blob relaxed and became more like a beaked meat loaf, than a menacing creature it was moments before.
Two still agitated specimens remained. A flying bubble like creature, with alternating colors on translucent skin. It had no appendages only a wurm like opening on one side, full of sharp teeth placed in tight circles. Last specimen looked like a huge rodent with bald chameleon skin, currently blending to a shadow between tho other glass enclosures. Only it’s five skinny tails were reachable from the crack it pressed into.
Few failed net throws and a stray arrow shot later, remaining creatures were put to magical sleep.
Party gathered the slumbering creatures into a pile in the middle of the room and started capturing smaller specimens as old vedalken returned with his prized possession.
“What a mess.” Iosef sighted and looked around. “Put the flying creatures under the category 1⁄2 and 1⁄4 to the enclosure C. Take the specimen #7 together. Put amphibious creatures into enclosure A, on the dry plot, you can reach it by stairs from behind. Hmmm, specimen #74 goes into D, and remaining category 1 krasis go into terrarium B.”
For a moment the party stood unmoving.
“We will help you if you will agree on giving us the revivification potion”, - Nai bluntly stated.
“Giving? As if for free? No no no. I will give a discount at best. And you will have to sign a contract. Now lets clean this mess, before they wake up.”
After dragging, carrying or wheeling the creatures to appropriate enclosures, as indicated by the Biochemist, the girls sat down in his little office.
“So, you want to get a member of your group revived, am I correct?” Iosif directly approached the issue.
“Yes, and since we helped you to capture your specimens, we expect at least some compensation…” Nai was pushing on the idea of free potion.
“You helped me, yes. Let’s make a deal, hmm where have I placed it…” Iosif stood up and started frantically blasting through piles and piles of papers. For a while the office was filled with noises of opening and closing drawers, shuffling among old and new papers and silent mumbling of the old vedalken.
“Ah, here it is. Standard Orzhov agreement issue. So, the deal. I write down name of your friend under the sum of 300 zinos and you find out what happened to my terrarium.”
“Um, we don’t have that much money on us.” Neia spoke up. “And I don’t think Wataru has that amount either.”
“It is his problem now. What exactly do you want to know about the incident?” Nai inquired.
“Well, if this was not your doing, who did it, and why?”
“I saw a blueish humanoid shape rising from the pool at the end of the room and hitting the wall with this.” Nai presented a pickaxe she took out of the aquatic breeding pool. “It still has a price tag on it, maybe we can find some leads in the Tin Street.”
“Ok, so I take your verbal confirmation as an agreement to the terms listed in this document. 300 zinos under the name of Wataru and the name or information on the culprit who smashed my enclosure.” Iosif slid his pen over his finger, making a tiny cut and pressed it on the paper. Scroll wrapped itself up and levitated shimmering in front of the girls, then vanished leaving a smell of ectoplasm.
Shinigami started clapping in excitement.
“You are quite an artist! Would you like to join the cult of Rakdos?”
“No, and I suggest you get going. I have to finish cleaning the mess. And you have a pickaxe to investigate.”