Hand of the numbered
The girls exited the damp and magilit Zonot back to the surface.
“I will leave you now. I feel that Wataru soul is bound to return to his body soon, and the song is calling me back to my duty in the forest.” Neia looked longingly at the clear skies, “Blessings of Mat’Selesnya to you all”.
The party looked after the elvish girl and her wolf striding into the alleys of The Blistercoils.
“We should start with Tin street. I have a hunch that this pickaxe originated there.” Nai gave her thoughts on the subject.
“Lead the way” Katrille nodded, eyeing Shinigami with suspicion, who was swinging her hips playfully to the sides, making her short simple skirt swirl in the warm afternoon breeze.
The relatively quiet streets of Fifth district gave way to the bustling Tin Street. Lively market was full of action and people, food vendors were trying to sell of the last bits of grilled meat from their carts, some merchants were already packing up their stalls, was it because the day was not going well for them, or they have sold all that they wanted today it remains unclear. Criers from stalls at the edges of the street tried to get attention from passers-by in any way they could.
“Wait here, I am going to look around” Nai disappeared into the crowd faster than anyone could protest.
“Would you like some rat sticks?”
“What?” Katrille looked surprised at the Rakdos performer, currently behaving completely differently than she was used to.
“Rat sticks. Grilled rats on a stick.” girl pointed to a nearby goblin, which had impaled gutted rodents sizzling atop his portable grill.
“Um, can we have something that has less of, um, rat?”
“How about that one” her finger moved to large banner “Myzterius Meatz”, which was owned by a sturdy looking female ogre, giving out large sausages to her customers.
“I would prefer something which I know is meat…” vedalken skimmed over the closest stalls “There, a ‘bab stall.”
A leaf decorated wooden stall, with slim human slicing juicy looking pale meat and placing it into brownish spice mix, before tossing it onto a huge pan over a marble stove, where a chubby woman saw to a perfect roast. Soon girls dug into steaming meat and vegetable plates standing at the little table nearby.
Meanwhile Nai was looking for anything that would help them to figure out who attacked Biochemist Iosif. Her keen eye noticed a crew of Rakdos miners pushing through the crowd. They were sweaty and had a disconcertingly strong odor around them. Most probably they were just out of the depths of Hellhole, perhaps trying to unearth something long lost. Nai followed the miner crew until they reached a stall fully stocked with metal tools.
“Hey, boy, do you have a pickaxe?”
“Vincenc, he has nothing but pickaxes. Just pick one and lets go, we have a lot to do.”
“Boy, give me a discount, I have broken one, and I need a new one.” towering man pushed over a large broken tool the stall. “How much?”
“Whi-which pickaxe do you want?” boy behind the stall stammered a bit, seeing the large leather wearing figures, with menacing spikes and piercings throughout their muscular bodies.
“This will do” Vincenc pointed to the closest pickaxe, similar to the one he used before.
“That one will be a zino and 59 zibs.” boy started pulling out the tool from the rack.
“Make a discount or we will use it on you first!” the smallest of the group, but still a large human hissed at the poor boy and showed his artificially sharpened teeth in a threatening smile.
“Y-yes sir. One twenty, no less.” boy hoped that the group would not attack him in broad daylight, but he was not entirely certain. He looked at the little flag bearing the symbol of the Church of Deals, hanging at the end of the stall banner, praying that the protection he bought had any impact on these brutes.
Low thick laughter from Vincenc’s mouth pushed out the remainder of the blood from already pale boys face. He threw the coin on the counter, grabbed the tool from the shivering hands and gestured his comrades to go. Before leaving, one with gruesome smile feinted a swing from a tool he was holding, forcing the merchant to cover his head with his arms.
Nai watched the group walk away and approached the stall.
“Hey there, young man. What are you selling here?”
Boy watched the Rakdos crew for a while longer, then turned his gaze to his new customer.
“Tools and trinkets, young miss. What can I interest you in?”
“What pickaxes you have?”
“Uhm, here you can see all what we have to offer” young boy gestured towards side of his stand, where various mining tools were layed out. Starting from small, goblin sized utilities, to large, presumably giant wielded tools. “Is there anything specific you are looking for?”
“Yes, I would like to inspect something my size.”
“What are you going to dig, if I may ask?” boy tried to weave some sort of conversation with the pretty girl, while unhooking a medium sized pickaxe.
“I want to use it for climbing…” Nai carefully inspected the tool she was handed. It had the same marked price tag and the same blacksmiths signature as the tool she found in the breeding pool a while ago. “Say, do you have anything else for me?”
“Of course, if you plan on going somewhere high you can find all the tools right here!” merchant took a considerable sized drawer out from the side of his stall and placed atop the merchandise.
All sorts of carabiners, chains, harnesses and rings, ascenders and descenders, in addition to crampons for various size boots and multitude of hooks and bolts.
“Ok, great, thanks, I am going to look a bit around…”
“Oh don’t worry, you will find that Obediah’s merchandise is best around these parts.” boy shouted after Nai, with considerable pride in his tone.
“So you just sat here and ate?”
“Well, yes? What did you expect us to do? You disappeared in the crowd. And I was hungry.” Shinigami protested. “We got you some food too, here, have a bite.”
“Ok, after I eat… Oh that looks really tasty, mhph…” Nai continued with full mouth, “So, I found this stall were the pickaxe was acquired from. We need to get more information from the boy behind it.”
“Look, we will not hurt you, but you better tell us what we want to hear.” Shinigami looked menacingly at the poor boy behind the stall, who suddenly lost his capability to speak.
“Who have bought pickaxes recently?” Nai asked the boy.
“What?” Shinigami hissed
“No, Rakdos came previously and bought a pickaxe, just before you came.”
“A girl, no, a woman. Pale skin, long dark dress. Purchased two, had thrulls to carry them. Paid in gold coin.” boy paused for a bit, “Also Azorius Lawmage came here today, asked for any stolen goods, I reported what I lost today, he wrote it down and left.”
“I… I did not work yesterday, my father tended to the stall.”
“Where is your father now?”
“Working in the smith? He is the one making all these tools.”
“And where is the smith?”
“Sixth district, close to the Foundry street. Has a name plate next to the door.”
“This is going nowhere” Nai intercepted, taking out pickaxe from her cloak, “Who bought this?”
“I… I am sorry, don’t tell my father about this. It was stolen today, I did not see who did it. I already told this to Lawmage…”
“Don’t worry, we are not here to blame you, we need to find the person who took this. Actually, you can have it back.” Nai placed the tool back on the stall and took a scanning look around.
Between two stalls on the opposite side, a beggar woman was staring intently at the trio. Nai swam across the people filled street and stood above the old looking lady with weird furry hat on top of her head. Nai took out three copper coins and tossed them down to the small can in front of the old woman. Beggar quickly grabbed the falling coins mid air, one coin hit the bottom of the can, while others disappeared within her clothing somewhere. Nai bent down and asked in hushed voice:
“Did you see what or who took that pickaxe?”
“Yes, I saw. I see many things. Spirits hush to me, birds sing to me. Even stones complain to me. Could you kindly step a bit to the left, you are trampling my favourite pebble.”
“What? Oh, yes, sure.” Nai took a careful side step, “So what can you tell me?”
“He was tall, blue and vedalken. He was a bad thief. It took him almost a minute to hide the damn thing under his cloak.”
“Anything more specific?”
“What is your name girl?”
“Nai, what about yours?”
“Annabelle”, she make a little bow and seemingly on accident pushed her coin tin with her knee.
Three more coins fell into the can.
“Ok, I will tell you one more thing. But I need something from you. Get me some cherries.”
“Cherries. Ripe ones at that.”
Nai looked with confusion at Katrille, who as well as Shinigami left the poor merchant alone and stood nearby.
“Well you heard her. Bring some.”
Katrille shook her head in disbelief and disappeared in the crowd. Moments later she came back with a basket of cherries.
“Please, all of you, don’t mind to take some” Annabelle placed the basket in the middle so that everyone could reach. “Oh they are so good. He had a number. Mmm. Tattoo on his hand. You know, I really miss proper fruit, I mostly have to persist on Golgari rot farms. Number seventeen, in calligraphic script. But these cherries, they are really good. Just below his left sleeve.”
“Thank you, Annabelle.”
“You are welcome, Nai.”
“Seventeen you say? Oh dear. That is most disconcerting I may know only of one vedalken who has a number on his hand. He is my, um, was a part of biomana enhancement project. It was a success and his magic abilities had been enhanced. He then became my associate and we worked for more than an decade together. But something had gotten into him lately, and he started a movement against Simic enhancements. I never thought he would be this ridiculous, to come in to my laboratory and release all the creatures we worked on together.”
Iosif turned to his pile of papers and took the top one.
“He handed me this last time we met. I thought it was some sort of a joke, but given his actions, I am afraid he lost his mind.”
Leaflet shames Simic biomancy and warns that godless creations will rise and attack the living.
“Here is your potion”, biochemist points to a golden concoction on his working table, “I will need your assistance soon to wrap up this business with my former associate. I will reach you with this.” Iosif hands Katrille a small cytoplast sphere. “Remember to apply the potion to the freshly deceased. It will not work as expected on anything that died of natural causes or died more than ten days ago.”
Girls walked back to the Selesnya territories, this time avoiding Gruul and walking a bit around through Vitu-Ghazi, the tree of life. As they came to Wyn Zumro’s hut, the sun was already approaching the edge of the skies.
“You came back… I was sceptical at first. Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Yes, where is Wataru?” Nai asked Wyn.
“Here, behind the hut”, Mister Zumro showed the way to a large tree with a enormous bean-pod, “Let me just…”, little bit of magic energy from Wyn’s hand popped the pod open.
Weirdly calm dead corpse of an elephant slid out from the plant coffin. Traces of preserving liquid oozed out together with the large grey body, it looked like a tree had just given birth to a stillborn yet well aged loxodon. This time even Rakdos was not keen to play with the dead. After a bit of reluctant debate, Katrille was selected to apply the magic potion. She hesitated for a moment above the corpse, then a quick pop of the cork, and golden thick liquid poured over the wounds. It appeared as if the liquid was not even touching the material body and sinking directly into the soul of the creature. Few seconds passed while the potion dripped the last drop. Surrounding area froze in suspense.
“Do you think it will work?” Nai carefully inquired.
“Maybe you have to rub it in?” Shinigami partially joked, partially wished to see Katrille massaging the flopped trunk.
“I don’t think that is necessary, look…” Katrille gestured toward the largest opening in Wataru’s body. Golden liquid began to assemble in the gap and slowly the wound closed up, leaving only fresh pink skin behind.
A loud grasp for air startled the serene garden. Dark amber eyes opened up and started moving around the surroundings.
“Hmmm”, Wataru mumbled something with stiff throat.
“What was it like, being dead?” Rakdos used the weirdest tone to voice this question, it was like a child asking her parents about how her brother was born. Curious and happy to hear any kind of answer.
Loxodon sat up and slowly stretched his arms in front of him. With great care he placed his arm on the ground and pushed himself up. He staggered.
“Wataru, are you feeling, …, alive? I am not sure how to deal with this.” Nai looked at the lurching elephant with longing gaze in her eyes.
Party together with Wyn, led the ‘phant to the hut and rested for the night, each in their own thoughts.
Morning came a bit rough on the edges, sky was overcast, Wataru could smell rain in the distance. Nai commanded the party to leave for Neirius as soon as possible without cleaving through Wyn’s supplies. Their destination was the towering Sunhome, Boros guildhall, an impregnable fortress which serves as fortress, barracks, and spiritual center for the Legion. Right now it also served as an infirmary for one individual with tangled hair nervously pacing across the room. He stopped next to a small bed where he spent last few days according to the nurse that just left the room. His head was still a bit light from whatever placed him in that bed. He tried hard to remember the last thing before the darkness. His lush brows curled up and deep wrinkles spread out across his patchy forehead. Numerous experiments both failed and successful had left marks on his skin. A knock on the door threw him off his thoughts.
“Yes?” his voice cracked mid word, he moved to the door and opened it.
Large elephant head nearly completely occupied the doorway.
“Wataru? What are you… You got my message?”
“Yes, all of us did.” loxodon gestured to the girls behind him.
“I am sorry I had dragged you into my problems. But I am a bit lost, nurse told me I am here because of you, Wataru. What happened?”
“We found you in Orzhov Church, bounded and in line for payment. Wataru literally carried you away from certain death and servitude to Orzhov.” - Nai described the situation.
Neirius looked intensely at the girl. He tried to remember if he sent a message to her, but his memory was failing him. He nodded in turn to Shinigami and Katrille.
“We have to return to my laboratory! I have to work!” Neirius eyes started darting across the plain room.
“Your laboratory is in ruins.” Nai sadly stated, “We found only broken door and chaos.”
“Who? Why? But my work!” he clasped his head and dragged his palms over stubble that accumulated over last few days. “I was in Golgari dungeons, performing field testing on Artifimana Siphon. We were attacked by zombies so we had to retreat. I returned to my laboratory, wrote out to all my contacts… Last thing I remember was a knock on the door.”
Neirius looked around the room.
“Can I ask you to come with me to reclaim my experiment? I need to continue working, I am getting behind schedule already. Meanwhile we will be able to recover what and why happened.”
“That is why we are here.” Katrille spoke up. “Pardon my curiosity, but what exactly is your research about?”
“You are still as curious and careless as I remember. All I can say that if my research will yield results, which it will, it will bring new possibilities to all Guilds. It should help to amass large amounts of mana to tap into by any spellcaster. It is based on the legendary Black Lotus.”
Katrille knowingly nodded, while others looked a bit lost.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Nai asked, “We have been getting deeper and deeper in Golgari territory for a while now.”
“Um, yes, I am sure we are on the right path.” Neirius tried to keep his tone as confident as possible.
“So, we go, grab your device and take it to your lab?” Wataru clarified the plan.
The group was walking in a damp underground tunnel, with water stream flowing downward, bringing all kinds of refuse together with it. They entered a cistern, where the water collected from a number of raised tunnels and exited out through multiple others.
“Um, now we need to take…” Neirius rubbed his forehead, “Third archway, the one with moss directly above it.”
“Are you sure we know where we are going?” Nai sceptically asked making a mental note that all archways had moss above them.
“Yes, yes, I am sure.”
Neirius took the stairs and walked around the murky pool of water. Luminescent spores where floating calmly above the flowing water.
“Are you coming?”
Few minutes later they took a turn leaving the relatively neat stone tunnel for a broken hole in the side. One slippery slope and few turns later, together with a gushing stream of water they came to a large opening. Glowing mushrooms and luminescent spored kept the cavern dimly lit. They could make out some ancient parts of structure around a hill of refuse pilled up in the middle of the spacious cavern. Water flowed down what seemed to be a staircase landing, splashing below into a rocky floor. Stairs were leading down to both sides. Maybe, long time ago this was a dance hall or some sort of court. Now, only stone pillars supporting the concave roof were above lush underground vegetation. Water flowed around the refuse hill, making it look like an island in the dark gushing river. On top of this island, a metallic object was stuck in the moss. It seemed like it was here for ages, already partially covered in mushrooms and wines.
“Neirius, how long ago you said you did your experiment here?”
“It was only a few days ago, why?”
Nai looked skeptically but did not say anything further. She walked over the edge where the water dropped down and looked at the mushrooms, moss and lichen below. Something dark moved. She called Shinigami over and the two girls counted at least seven moving shapes on the island. They threw few rocks at them and determined that whatever creatures their were, intelligence and calmness were not their main traits. Katrille suggested staying on the high ground and roasting the beings from afar. Everyone agreed to such plan. Few dozen fireballs, eldrich blasts and chaos bolts later the crypt stood devoid of motion.
Party carefully moved towards the metal cylinder, sidestepping dangerously looking mushrooms. Wataru inspected the device and with a little effort lifted it by two handles out from the lush fungus and moss. A low rumble washed over the party coming from the far end of the cavern.
“We should get moving”, Neirius said pointing into the darkness.