Wisest of choices
Darkness had already consumed alleyways of Ravnica when the party exited Neirius lab. Large streets were fighting off the dark with magilight posts and lamps held by Azorius patrols. Motion in the streets had reduced a quite a bit when compared to the middle of the day, but Ravnica never truly sleeps. In this district people were minding their own business at this hour. Usually open corner stands were no longer there. No callers shouting latest news walked among the now thin traffic. A dark figure leaning on a lamppost caught Nai’s attention.
“Listen, I, um, have to do something on my own. I will find you soon.”, Nai turned to a dark alley heading towards Ismeri library. Dark figure followed suite.
“Where are you going?”, Shinigami asked, yet instead of an answer Nai simply put her hood up and disappeared behind a corner.
“It seems she has her own agenda too.”, Wataru said, “Leave her to it for now. We should focus on beer and rest.”
“Agreed.”, Katrille nodded and turned towards the inn Neirius described.
Tavern’s windows were boarded shut, door had seen better days too. A torch lit sign stated that this is “Water and some Fire inn”.
“Shall we?”, Shinigami opened the battered door to a warm lit tavern.
A large room crowded with furniture and patrons opened before their eyes. A hulking figure stood behind the bar. It’s muscular back was naked and covered in scars and fading tattoos. Shinigami approached the bar.
“Why is this place called like that?”
Figure turned around slowly. She held a glass between her fingers and used her thick towel covered finger to polish it. She stopped twisting the finger and looked at the small human girl with a raised eyebrow.
“Because we serve water here. And strong spirits, which are fire.”
The sweet voice that escaped ogre’s throat through sharpened tusks did not match her appearance at all. She sounded more like an aged grandmother, not like a building wrecking beast she looked like.
“We will have three of your fire drink, then”
Ogre placed the freshly polished glass on the counter and retrieved two more along with a bottle from under it.
“That will be six zibs, little one” she said pouring murky liquid into the glasses.
Remaining party looked around the tavern in the meantime. They took an empty table between a large group discussing some sort of sports event and a scientist trio that were deep into their drinks and now had been quite loudly arguing about their experiments. A lonely dark figure sat in the far corner of the inn and played with a platinum coin.
Shinigami, brought the drinks to the table, gulped her in one go and navigated through other patrons directly to the dark figure, who by all means looked like someone that does not want to be disturbed.
Others watched as the dark figure shifted into the taverns light, revealing a rough face with three long scars marking his left eye. Shinigami conversed for a while with him and skimmed back between the chairs.
“I had a little talk, he said we can do a job.”
“What job?” Wataru asked shifting forward.
“He said 300 platinum, split half-half.”
“3000 zibs??? You are joking right?” Katrille asked in disbelief
“What job?” Wataru asked again.
“Um, wait.” Shinigami strode back to the man in the corner.
They talked inaudibly, then the man flipped his coin and gestured Shinigami to guess. She returned slightly disappointed back to the table.
“He said he will meet us in an hour in a backstreet behind the Stone Brewers. He said he will go now to get his friends.”
“This does not sound too convincing to me, Shinigami” Wataru spoke.
“What do you mean?”
“He looks dangerous to me, too” Katrille seconded.
“Oh no, he is very friendly. He talks bit funny though.” Shinigami changed her voice to match the dark man’s, “All deep and rough, like this.”
“Either way, we must return before Neirius comes” Wataru said watching the man leave the tavern.
“Did you at least get his name?” Katrille asked.
“Yeah, he said he is Joseph.”
“In the worst case, I think we could get a coin for his head.” Wataru said staring at the closed tavern door.
“I will go after him.”, Shinigami suddenly said and stood up, “Meet you behind the Brewers”.
Rakdos girl opened the door and looked at the figure in the distance, she slipped out and trailed Joseph from the shadows as best as she could.
Wataru and Katrille took one more drink and waited for a while before standing up and leaving towards the Stone Brewers.
They caught up to Shinigami standing before a one story building with a sign shaped as a beer keg.
“This is it. I saw him talk with two other men, but all of them came here through different way, so I could follow only Joseph.” Shinigami reported.
“So, should we go in, or should we turn around and go back to our drinks?”, Wataru asked.
“Let me look around.”, Shinigami with dexterity of Rakdos performer climbed on the brewery’s roof.
“Okey, there are three men in the back of this alley and four other are waiting there”, Rakdos pointed to two pairs of figures eyeing them from a distance. “I go in, you stay here and hold them back.”
“What about me? I don’t want to get into fight at all.” Katrille asked.
“Climb on the roof and shoot?”, Shinigami proposed.
“I hope this will be worth it”, Wataru said and took his hammer out while Katrille ascended the drainpipe.
“Well, boys, so what will you tell me”, Shinigami asked the three men in the alley after she approached them.
“I am pretty sure you know what we are going to tell you.”, Joseph said and attacked the girl with his longsword.
Shinigami dodged the blow and together with all three men disappeared in a bubble of complete darkness.
Meanwhile Wataru was surrounded by four thugs, three humans and a goblin. Wataru touched his Boros charm and a wave of thunder forcefully slammed into the thugs. Goblin was swept of his feet, while other thugs managed to stand firm and landed a few painful blows back at the war phant’. Wataru swung his hammer and another blast of thunder echoed around him, this time blasting all the thugs away. Loxodon wasted no time and slammed his hammer at the nearest thug making his limp body hit the ground with a soft thud. Goblin, still scrambling on the floor turned and ran. Another thug landed a hurtful blow at the back of Wataru’s head, to which elephant responded with a angry shout and swung his hammer in an arc landing on the side of the head of the said thug.
“Steve!”, last one of the thugs shouted as his friend collapsed, he pushed the elephant with all his might making just a little space between them, then grabbed Steve by his belt, threw him over his shoulder and ran.
Wataru stood for a split second watching the human retreating with his friend on his shoulder, then trumpeted in anger and ran after. His hammer landed on the side of the retreating human forcing him to shout in pain. Tears started flowing his rugged face. But he did not stop, he ran like his, and Steve’s lives would depend on it. Which, by the look on the Loxodon’s face, surely did. After few dozens of steps Wataru stopped and reconsidered his rage. He turned around and saw Shinigami unconscious on the ground with blood all over her. Katrille was exchanging icy blasts to arrows with the single remaining thug in the end of the alley. While Wataru ran back the thug fell down with three glowing darts slowly dissipating in the dark. Katrille slid down the drainpipe and together with Wataru approached unconscious body of Rakdos girl. Most of the blood she was laying in was not hers. She managed to slice open two thugs, before passing out from a deep cut in her side. Wataru put his healing hand on the lifeless body and prayed to the angel that she would not die. At least not today. He did the same for the fallen thugs, but one of them had already crossed the boundary of life and death.
Meanwhile goblin slipped from behind a pair of boxes and came back to his friend that lied motionless at the entry to the alley. He started dragging his body behind a corner when Katrille noticed him, shouted and ran after. When she turned the corner she found only an empty potion bottle and two distant figures running away with all their might.
Wataru looted bodies of fallen thugs while he was alone in the back. He took a crossbow, a platinum coin and a ticket for a 50 zino stake on someone named J’okhana.
“This time I carry you, reckless Rakdos girl”, Wataru sighed and took the motionless Shinigami.
He looked at Katrille and without words turned back to the “Water and some Fire” inn.
“What on earth happened to you? I left you for a brief moment and now you are all covered in blood!“, Neirius exclaimed when he saw unconscious Shinigami on Wataru’s shoulder.
“We crossed some thugs in our way”, Wataru said dryly and placed the girl into a chair and adjusted her body so that she would not fall down.
“And you managed to completely loose blue cloaked girl too?”, Neirius looked around the tavern searching for her.
“No, she went off somewhere. And her name is Nai.”, Wataru pondered for a moment watching Katrille ordering something at the bar, “Say, Neirius, you don’t really know Nai, do you?”
“Um, I have met her a few times before, but I never considered her my friend, no… And I did not send her anything if I remember correctly.”
“Hmph”, Loxodon sat down behind the table keeping one arm on the passed out Rakdos.
“So, what did you want from us?”, Katrille asked placing three glasses of the same murky alcohol they drank earlier on the table.
Neirius took the glass, downed the contents in one gulp and exhaled loudly.
“For starters, I need to thank you for taking me out of the grasp of Orzhov. For that and for retrieving Artifimana Siphon.“, Neirius took out his coin pouch, and counted over a decent reward for all their trouble. “But I am in need of some protection and without saying I may not get it from Orzhov. Would you work for me in the evenings? Does one zino a day sound reasonable?”
“I would very much like this”, Wataru jumped to this opportunity as the debt for his revival was looming over his thoughts for the last few days.
“I may find some time in my evenings to help out with your experiments too…”, Katrille looked at Neirius with a smirk on her usually emotionless face, “But you will share a bit of knowledge with me in the process.”
“You are as curious as always, Katrille.”, their gazes met and they sat there staring at each other for a moment longer than Wataru found comfortable,- “Fine. But no talking to others about what I am doing, deal?”
“We have an agreement.”, she smiled.
“I will get the next round and we should at least wash her wounds. We can do that at my laboratory. Actually it is too late for you to travel back home, so you can all spend the night there.“, Neirius suggested opening his arms widely, “And if something comes for me tonight, maybe I will have someone who can protect me this time, heh.”
“You can’t understand science”
Wataru woke up from the sound of crackling electricity. There were muffled shouts coming from the stairwell. He looked around the darkened room he slept in. Neirius obviously cleaned it up a bit, compared to the last time he and Nai visited it, but it was still a mess. Loxodon slowly shifted his large body upright, trying not to wake other two girls that slept in the other side of the room, and moved down into the laboratory. Bright light hit his eyes and he covered them up in surprise. Four goblins were darting in the laboratory, which looked nothing like they found it few days ago. Doors were back in place, most of the equipment was back in order and loudly humming, arcs of electricity were jumping between open contacts, fluorescent fluid was swirling in a weird spherical shaped glass enclosure in the corner of thee room, Neirius stood in the middle and was tweaking something in the cylinder shaped object.
“Ah, you are awake, since I slept for three days straight I fixed things up overnight, what do you think?“, Neirius glanced over Wataru briefly and returned his attention to whatever he was doing with Artifimana Siphon.
“You found help during the night?”, Wataru looked at the goblins in matching jumpsuits. “Are you sure they are appropriate?”
“Why yes, don’t worry. They come with a signed letter. They are part of The Mizzium Goblins, I had not heard negative reviews about them. Yet.”
One of the goblins, slightly more muscular that the remaining lot, had fixated his eyes on the large loxodon and stopped moving. He had multiple empty earing holes in both of his ears and only one small mizzium ring in his left one. Few dark tattoos of wilderness and animals decorated his arms. He had a few old scars here and there.
“Hey, you there!”, Wataru stepped towards the goblin, “What is your name?”
“Xoisk… Xoi. I am called Xoi.”
“What are you doing here?”, Wataru’s voice rose.
“I…I…”, poor creature stammered and cowered as if trying to avoid a hit from the large elephant.
“If you want to tune the magnetic inertia on a manafuse you can’t just use your hands! You will desync the field manipulator turning it without precision!“, loxodon was now standing directly above him. Wataru grabbed a nearby tool wrap, rolled it open, took out a straw shaped took with a slider and a gouge on it. “Here, let me show you.”
Goblin jumped out of the way and let Wataru to use his tool on the manafuse.
“You need it to be around 45-46, depending on expected flow.”, elephant looked at now trembling creature, “Wait, have we met somewhere?”
“Forest. You killed Breegork. I ran away. No hurt me. I work here now, no more Gruul, can’t go back, not after running from you.“, he spilled in high pitched voice.
“Don’t worry, I am not here to hurt you. It is good that you chose science instead of savagery. Now watch carefully…“, Wataru twisted the tool in his large hands. Suddenly a loud explosion roared over them, ground shook under their feet, glass vials rattled, metallic pieces clanked and dust slowly descended from the ceiling. “There you go. 45.7 ohms. Should hold up to 5 zareks of mana flow.”
“It seems that Sullemand made a discovery.”, Neirius lifted his eyes from the gauge he was intensely staring at for the last minute and scanned over the room to see if anything was out of order, “Could have chosen a better time for this. Even without his involvement these readings are far beyond what I expected.”
Both girls came tumbling down the narrow staircase obviously distressed by the sound and shaking ground, only to find six figures calmly working in the settling dust.
“What happened?” Shinigami tried to recover from shock of waking up from an explosion in an unknown place with her wounds freshly bandaged. “What is happening here?”
“I was helping Xoi with…”
A scream from outside the door interrupted Wataru’s explanation. Shinigami stormed to the door and opened them into the street. Outside a pack of lightning mephits were terrorizing morning commuters, zapping them with their arms. In the distance Azorius whistle blew loudly. A dark cloud with electric discharges zapping from it flew just few centimeters above ground. It stopped in front of Shinigami and started to materialize into a large two armed creature. It was all made from the same cloud, only now it was standing upright and had two bright blueish eyes approximately where it’s face should be.
Shinigami slammed the door shut and stepped back.
“Whatever is happening outside, do not let that thing in!”, Neirius commanded watching the door, “It can mess up everything I fixed over night!”
Small trail of black cloud seeped through the gap between the door and the ground. Trail got thicker every second, reforming the same creature inside the laboratory.
Shinigami cursed and hurled a bolt of eldrich energy into the creature. Part of the elemental dissipated on contact with the bolt, but quickly the missing part was reformed. Katrille and Neirius followed suite, both hitting the creature with their magic, but it continued slowly creeping towards Shinigami. Wataru held his locket out and commanded a bolt of lightning into the angry looking cloud. This time, instead of dissipating, the creature absorbed the lightning and grew in all directions. It’s newly formed appendage shot towards Shinigami shocking her painfully on contact. Another juicy curse escaped Rakdos mouth as she cut the cloud into two parts with her scythe and a bolt of electricity flew over the shaft of her weapon contracting her muscles. While the creature was reforming itself Katrille shot three magic darts, which made large holes in the now weakened smoke elemental. Shinigami stepped back learning her mistake and finished the creature off with another eldrich blast.
“What was this thing?”, Katrille asked looking at Neirius for some explanation.
“Most probably work of Sullemand, he is known to work with weirds and summons.“, Neirius replied with a shrug. “Please keep those creatures out of my laboratory. I really do not have the luxury of something messing with my experiments right now.”
As the group stepped outside they were met with chaos. Humans, vedalkens and goblins were running around or trying to fend of small lightning mephits, flying smoke like creatures with painful zap to their touch. Azorius peacekeepers were tangled up in the same chaos, casting binding spells and trying to force those nasty creatures out of the air. A huge hole was torn open in the second story of Sullemand’s laboratory, though which mephits were flying into the street.
Wataru turned to the reinforced door with Sullemand’s brand burned on them. After a fierce knock a goblin opened the door.
“What?! We are preoccupied at the moment if it is not important, go away!”, a creature with a burnt jumpsuit opened the door.
“You made quite the mess in the street, care to clean it up?”, Wataru sensed an opportunity to reduce his dept, “Luckily we can be for hire if you need some muscle.”
“We need nothing of you, get lost!”, goblin was about to close the door as Wataru grabbed a nearby mephit and threw it into the lab.
Sound of goblins being zapped joined the morning chaos.
“FINE. You get five zibs per critter.”, goblin opened the door widely, “You start in the second floor and do not break anything!”
“Ten zibs”, Shinigami joined the bargain.
“FIVE! This is my final off…”, second loud explosion cut the goblin short. A cloud of smoke and lightning flew out from the hole in the second floor and dropped behind the party in the street.
“And a zino for the big ones!”, Rakdos girl said with a melody in her voice.
“I can’t, I mean, the master is not here…”, goblin seemed distressed as his laboratory was plunging into chaos.
“Oh, is that so?”, Wataru got the smell of a lucrative deal, “I wonder what he will do to you when he finds his experiments running wild for everyone to see and no data collected because you were too busy getting your hides zapped around?”
If goblins could turn pale, this one would have turned paper white. His eyes darted from the chaos in the lab to the forming elemental in the street.
“Zino for the big ones.”, goblin finally muttered and opened the door,- “Come in quick.”
First floor of Sullemand’s laboratory was similar to what Neirius had in his sub-basement. Machinery was buzzing and illuminating goblins, goblins were running and flailing things at mephit, mephit was flying and zapping around. Wataru took down the mephit with precise hammer swing and they walked through the room to the stairs leading up. Upstairs they found three rooms, one of which had it’s doors open and morning sun was visible through the blasted wall. Elephant and two girls entered the room and found a mizzium contraption holding a weird ball sized mana bubble suspended between two metal arcs. To everybody’s surprise another lightning elemental came out from the mana bubble and the bubble shrank to a tiny pebble.
Few seconds later the creature dissipated after receiving a final eldrich blast and Shinigami went over the room to look outside. Azorius had almost disposed of all the mephits and were now fighting the remaining large creature.
She turned around and pointed at once-again-ball-sized-mana-bubble. Her action was followed by yet another curse. This time it came from Katrille’s mouth. Wataru ran out from the room, following mana cables to what he thought was the power source for the contraption. To his surprise he found the mana capacitor circuit broken, so by his knowledge the device should have been powered off, not producing an endless stream of elementals. He heard Katrille shouting something vulgar directed at Shinigami, when he ran back into to the room, mana bubble was no more. Instead there was a pulsating crack in the wall behind the device.
“What have you done?!”, Wataru exclaimed with disbelief
“She threw her scythe into the portal!”, Katrille explained rather agitatedly.
“It was about to pop another of those creatures again!”, Shinigami said in self defence.
“And what will happen now?”, Wataru asked.
Trio stood for a moment and watched as a hand-shaped cloud clung to one side of the pulsating crack. Then another emerged from inside and started spreading the crack wider.
Shinigami shot eldrich blast at it. Crack lit up brightly and with a loud pop became twice the size it was before.
“STOP!”, Wataru shouted in vain. A creature four times the size of the one they were fighting before stepped into the room through the gap.
“Well…”, Katrille prepared her spells again to fight the creature.
“We need to ground it!”, Wataru shouted over the crackling of electric discharges on the creature’s body.
“How are we going to tackle it?”, Shinigami asked confused, “It will shock us to death if we hug it!”
“No, you simpleton!”, Wataru tore one of the larger cables off the floor and jerked it loose from the machine it was connected to, “We will use this to drain the electricity from it.”
“That could work! Rakdos, take the end and slam it into it!”, Katrille ordered while shooting magic darts at the creature with little effect.
“Why is it always Rakdos this, Shinigami that?”, girl mumbled while taking the cable, with a crazy scream she ran into the creature like a knight with a wobbly lance.
As the cable connected to the charged body a web of discharges disappeared from it in an instant, creature roared and slammed the girl throwing her off balance to the ground. Wataru stepped the between fallen girl and the creature and started pounding the smoky form with his hammer. Shinigami stood up, summoned her scythe and circled the amorphous being to get a better position. Her final swing cut the creature in half and with that the smoke dropped on the floor and dissipated.
Wataru swiped sweat from his forehead and looked and the crack in the wall. It seemed dormant at the moment, but Krokt knows what other creatures can get through it now.